I remember reading Flora Nwapa's novel, Efuru, at age 11 and being captivated by the beautiful, financially independent female protagonist who suffers many tragic events.
Efuru is the story of a young woman in post colonial Eastern Nigeria who wishes to be a wife , mother and a successful business woman. She is able to become a successful trader, however her personal life remains bumpy. She loses two husbands and her only child. By the end of the book, she visits the lake goddess Uhamiri after making some offerings. It is then that she realizes that Uhamiri gives her followers wealth and beauty but few children.
It wasn't so much the tragedy that seemed to surround her that fascinated me, it was her strong spirit and her ability to take responsibility for herself. She was the epitome of the modern woman. Efuru's cultural background, the world surrounded by spirits and other mystical elements was African. Her independence was a reflection of who she was as an African woman.
Efuru is like the contemporary woman in the sense that she wants to have it all; money, a husband and children. Though she does all she can to satisfy all three, she learns the hard way that she in particular can’t have it all. Efuru’s story pushes us as women to ask ourselves how much we are willing to be defined by our marital status and child bearing/raising abilities. In the case of a woman who can’t have it all, does that make her a failure or make her life not worth something? I believe that Flora Nwapa poses this question through this character.
Flora Nwapa's book which was published in 1966 and was the first novel to come out of Nigeria by a woman allowed people to take a peak into the authentic African woman, what she was, what she has the potential to be and what she is once again becoming. Efuru’s story inspires me as a woman that no matter the ups and downs in one’s professional and personal life, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This is a Flora Nwapa quote I stumbled upon: "When I do write about women in Nigeria, in Africa, I try to paint a positive picture about women because there are many women who are very, very positive in their thinking, who are very, very independent, and very, very industrious." (from an interview with Marie Umeh, 1995)
Flora Nwapa who referred to herself as a womanist, was a novelist, playwright, poet and the first woman in West Africa to own a publishing house. Efuru was her debut novel. She went on to write other books including Never Again and Wives at War and Other Stories. She died on October 16, 1993 in Enugu, Nigeria.