I wish I had written this review in commemoration of International Women’s Day because I fell in love with the female protagonist Tambaya. Her world is shattered in one day when her husband and daughter die in a car crash of which she survives. She is brought in to a world she was in no way prepared to live in. After her husband and daughter dies, she is shocked to discover that her husband had borrowed a huge amount of money and she had to work with her in-laws to ensure the debt is paid. I found the solidarity of her in-laws heart-warming because the stereotypes we are used to might have blamed her for killing her husband and brought more pain and sorrow on the already broken woman. Rather it was a collaborative effort to pay the loans.
Her need to survive took her to Ghana to be with her brother but the place didn’t have much promise for her, rather she was faced with antagonism from her sister in-law. Tambaya moves from Ghana to Abuja where here friends help her to secure a job at an orphanage. While the story is fraught with details of Tambaya attempts to rise above her daily struggles, the author also shows us various aspects of a failing society.
The author points our attention to the unsteady Nigerian government under the military and the corruption that is in the civil service. Tambaya’s work at the orphanage opens our eyes more to the problem of child/human trafficking and the societal problems that would make many abandon their children in very terrible ways. Tambaya’s brother leaves his son with Tambaya and never resurfaces. Many people are made to choose between their will to survive and the responsibility of parenting.
Tambaya is a woman that stands tall in this novel. She is not afraid to show her vulnerability but she doesn’t decide to remain vulnerable. She fights against the odds to survive. Though Miss Scholastica was a thorn in Tambaya’s flesh, she was wise enough to put the woman in her place. The relationship they had points readers to the need for women not to tear down one another but work together. Esther, Mulikat and Tambaya’s friendship show readers what is achievable when women stand together not tear each other down. They stand with their friend until she is able to get on her feet. Esther brings humour to the novel. She is Christian and Tambaya is Muslim but it did not hinder a beautiful friendship. People can work together irrespective of their religious affiliations.
The male characters in this particular novel are also worth mentioning. Tambaya’s father in-law is an epitome of wisdom and shows what fatherhood should be. There is Yakubu who truly loved his wife (Tambaya) and took great care of her. Well, there were funny characters like Suleiman (Yakubu’s brother) who wanted to marry Tambaya after her husband’s death who could not hold a job for too long, yet wanted to add the burden of a second wife to his list of worries. It is even worse when he mentions this proposal to Tambaya when the family was going through a difficult time in trying to pay back the loans Yakubu had borrowed while he was still alive.
The story is the story of a woman who rises against the odds. We can’t get tired of stories like this that offer hope and inspiration to women and not just women but to humanity in general. The language communicates the message of trials as a part of life and triumphs also as a part of life. These two go in hand in hand but the attitude we have in the trial phase is important in bringing us to the triumph phase. The setting navigates from Nigeria to Ghana smoothly but is basically set in Northern Nigeria. Hadiza Isma El-Rufai has created a masterpiece and has changed the perception of people about Northern Nigeria. It is not a place of hate as we are led to believe even though pockets of hate exists there (but where exactly isn’t there hate in the world?) but that is just a single story. Love, family, friendships, resilience and beauty are also stories in the North too. This book is highly recommended.