A failed first marriage because she did not bear any children leads to a second with a man she does not like or respect because of his looks and his occupation. It does eventually yield many children to whom Nnu Ego selflessly devotes her life. Her selflessness is supposed to reap her the joys of motherhood. A mother can give and give until her life ends in a most despicable way and her children may never bestow her with the things she may have given up or simply support her in old age. Once into the meat of the story, it becomes evident that joy is also supposed to come simply from the act of giving to her children. Even this is troublesome as she often had very little to give them. Often what she had to give went to her eldest son to further his education much to the frustration and anger of the second son and their father. Nnu Ego's struggle are compounded by her conflict with maintaining a traditional role which includes being a financial contributor and the modern role in this urban setting that calls for her to just focus on being a mother.
I'm an instant fan of Buchi Emecheta. Her writing is so vivid and crisp. Perhaps I'm biased being a mother and this is my first impression of her writing, but I feel she nailed it. The joys of motherhood are something that don't just necessarily manifest as tangible or, even, emotional rewards. They are just random moments and, sometimes, the good doesn't outweigh the bad. But once you're a mother you have to just surrender to it and come what may. For Nnu Ego, her joy came from the superficial outlook others had on her as a mother of seven and their individual success. Emecheta's use of chi, or personal spirit, and a number of other cultural references often relating to spirituality and death make this a very enriching read. The constant presence of death- be it that of a newborn, and old chief, or an attempted suicide- adds a profundity to this book on motherhood.
I also own and hope to read Emecheta's novel, Slave Girl, in the near future.