Review: The Concubine by Elechi Amadi
Title: The Concubine
Author: Amadi, Elechi
Length: 216 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Heinemann African Writers Series / 1966
Source: Purchased from Book Depository.
Why I Read It: To continue my Nigerian Friday feature, as well as the fact that I’ve heard good things about Amadi’s works.
Date Read: 24/03/11
Another great read from a classic Nigerian author. Amadi has written a number of books and plays. This is his first book which was published in 1966 before he rejoined the army during the Biafran war (actually on the Federal side, which makes me interested in his autobiography Sunset in Biafra). Afterwards he was a minister in the Rivers State Government while also writing.
The Concubine follows the story of two young villagers in Omokachi. Ihuoma is the young wife of a much praised man in the village, Emenike. The second main character is one of Emenike’s age-group friends Ekwueme. The book tells of Igbo culture and society and the struggles of these young people to do the right thing and stick to tradition.
I, as usual, did not read the blurb on the back cover until after reading the book. When I did I was rather disappointed as I felt it gives way too much away. At the same time, I don’t know that I can adequately discuss the book without also ruining the events in the first half. So I will say right now that if you haven’t read the book and dislike spoilers, please go read it before you read my review!
A few chapters in to the story Ihuoma is made a widow through the death of Emenike. It was this that the back of the book gives away. Although it happens early on, I loved the wonder of knowing what would happen. By reading the back we know that she is widowed and that Ekwuemo then pursues her. Bound by tradition and expectations, and always wanting to do the right thing and not bring shame on herself or others, Ihuoma rejects him as he had been betrothed to another young woman at birth.
The book dealt with tough subjects such as tradition, expectation, and the rules of society. It also dealt with longing and love and respect and what effect all of those can have on us if we let them. lastly, it deals with religion, divinations, and the appeasement of spirits. It was especially interesting to me to read about what was expected of the man and what was expected of the woman and where those differed. For example what might bring ridicule to a man might bring shame on the woman. It was also interesting to see whose responsibility it seemed to be in different situations to do the right thing, whatever that was.
The main thread through the story seemed to be the growth within Ihuoma and Ekwuemo and how they learn to work toward what they want and bring change to their lives. Their efforts in some ways go unnoticed and have varying results. I have to say that I found myself wanting to know more about Ihuoma through the story, wanting to know more of what was going on in her life and what her feelings were any time the story focused more on Ekwuemo. She was a strong female character.
Amadi really does a great job of showing a lot without spelling it out. He doesn’t so much expect the reader to know everything, but the traditions and ceremonies are all explained well through the narrative in such a way that the reader can understand what is happening and why, without losing the narrative thread of the story. Amadi was also great at working humour into the story masterfully.
I definitely look forward to reading more by Amadi in the future and am glad he has a list of other published works to try.