Book Review: 'Changes' by Ama Ata Aidoo

In the relative boredom of my life at the moment I've been scouring through my mate Afrocentric's extensive book shelves...after all what are friends for? Anyhoo, knowing me she recommended Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo since I've never read it, so here's my review....


Title: Changes: A Love Story

Author: Ama Ata Aidoo

First published: 1991

Story: The book follows the married life of Esi, who is an independent and educated woman frustrated with what she considers the drudgery of her life. She finds it hard to balance a demanding job with the demands of being a mother, wife and home maker. In Esi's world it is almost impossible for these two sides of her life to happily co-exist. Her husband, Oko, is also frustrated in their marriage and they are each trying to discover a balance in which they can both be happy. She finds her husband affections cloying while he finds her job a threat to their marriage and feels disgraced that he should be vying with her job for her attention. One morning Oko, decides to seduce Esi in a last ditch attempt to revitalise their marriage. Esi is unimpressed and what ensues is Oko raping his wife. From then on their marriage implodes and eventually the two divorce. Drawing ridicule for Esi from her in-laws and confusing her own family as to why she wants to divorce such a good man.

Around this time Esi meets the handsome Ali and following her divorce, they become involved. Ali is a well educated Muslim man, with a well educated wife who was forced to leave her education behind to raise their family. Despite her recent divorce, Ali's wife, and warnings for Esi from her nana and best friend Opokuya; Esi becomes his second wife. Married bliss does not last long and eventually Esi realises she is no longer happy. Ali feels his home is with his first wife and Esi get's only snippets of his life. And these snippets decrease the longer they remain married, soon he is giving her the excuses he was giving his first wife when Esi first met him. The book ends with Esi coming to terms with her new married situation.

Review: Sometimes when I read a book I have a silent little moment at the end when I love it. I had that with this book. I find it so sad. At times throughout the book, Esi annoys me because I feel she is a selfish character yet I can't help but support her attempts to truly acquire happiness instead of giving up and giving in like all the other females in the story. However, she does give in—in the end—to a situation which even she seems to realise is worse than that she started in. In some ways this book can be seen as an affirmation that African woman cannot have it all, in terms of a happy marriage, happy kids and a fulfilling career. But rather than that, this book feels like a subtle warning to be aware of what you hold and to cherish it. Esi should have been a little less self absorbed and realised her blessings in the first place, and even though I admired her courage to look for her happiness in the end I pitied the life she ends up with. Oh mobo! I really did enjoy this book. I'm impressed that it touches on marital rape in Africa, the martial destruction it can cause, the honest and innocent (?!) ways in which it can occur and the way society views it all; yet this is all done without detracting from the main story and becoming a crusade thinly veiled in a story. The peripheral characters such as Esi's mother and her nana; the side story of Ali's wife's personal struggles between education and family; and the interaction between Opokuya, Esi and Opokuya's husband all add a bit of positivity to Esi's sad story making you aware that her life does not exist in a vacuum of other factors. It was also brave that Esi left her daughter with Oko's mother and the author does not paint this act as evil merely the actions of a conflicted and honest character that she simultaneously loves and fears her daughter's presence in her life. Most of all I like this book because it all seems very real. A thoroughly good read, and not long winded in the least at under 200 pages!

Ratings: I give this book four little nsoromma's out of five! 4/5 stars

15 opinionated people have something to say:

Lady Jaye said...

Great review. But maybe the book is NOT meant as an affirmation that we African women can't have it all, but rather as a testament to the status quo - most african women DON'T have it all, and feel trapped, like they'll never have it all.

JT said...

i quite remember reading this book when i was 11. Shame i got caught....

Afrocentric said...

Well done Nsoromma! Nice review. Even though I enjoyed the book, I must confess I didn't think into to it too deeply. Also, I felt rather unsympathetic towards Esi. I think I will read it again. Maybe a second read will open up the underlying themes to me a bit more.

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

@ Lady Jaye - I agree with you that I do not feel the book is an affirmation that African women can't have it all, but i'm sure some people may read it that way. I guess the more people who see through that the better the job done by Aidoo.

@ JT - You got caught doing...

@ Afrocentric - Thanx 4 letting me borrow it! I think the book resonated with a lot a feelings I've had which may be why I read so deeply into it. But feel free to borrow it back from me!

JT said...

it was considered an "adult book", i must admit my mum raised hell that day wen she saw me reading it.

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

Oooooh, ok. Lol! You should go finish the book, let me know what you think!

Sankofa said...

I um "borrowed" this book from Afrocentric but I never got round to it. Dissertation was calling my name! I will get around to it someday though. You should read Aidoo's 'African Love Stories' (also to be found on Afrocentric's bookshelf) as well. Great read.

Abena said...

Great review, Nsoromma!
I was very young when I read this and it's funny that even though it wasn't till I read your summary that I remembered what it was about, i remembered so clearly how it made me feel.
I also got the whole conflicting emotions thing. Feeling happy that she was doing what she felt was right for her but feeling like she should have been more considerate of her daughter.
I want to read it again now.

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

@ Abena - It's nice to know that people actually read out there! So many people give me blank stares when I comment on books. But then I guess I shouldn't be surprised, those who blog probably read, right?

@ Sankofa - As for Afrocentric's bookshelf it has some good reads on it. I too borrowed African Love Stories...it's a compilation of short stories? I agree it was a thoroughly good read. In fact I like her writing style.

Myne Whitman said...

I read this book a long time ago but I feel I should go look for it again. Good review!

Friday's Afro said...

I read this book some time ago, and I don't really remember my feelings towards the characters, just that I didn't think that Esi would find happiness as a second wife. I will read it again, and I agree about the sadness of the book.

Great Review, I'm going to write one too :-p

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

@ Friday's Fro, go ahead we all read a lot so we should advise people on the good sturvs out there mehn!

Sankofa said...

Okay, I just finished this last night and I didn't feel sorry for Esi at all. Weirdly though, I couldn't help but like her. I think her capacity for selfishness is amazing and I don't know exactly what she was expecting as a second wife. I could understand her initial reasons for leaving her daughter Ogyaanoma with Oko's mother but I don't agree with why she kept her there. I understand her fearing that she'll be "bored" but why couldn't she go to Oko's mother only in the holidays? Esi, imho, became comfortable with absolving herself of that responsibility. I couldn't hang with that.

Nsoromma...Child of the Heavens said...

@ Sankofa - I think the way Esi treated her daughter was definately not something I could do, but I did like that a Ghanaian woman, albeit a character had the 'balls' to do it, if that makes any sense. It's the sort of thing we would happily ignore and say never us, never in our society would a woman so easily give up her child but I'm sure it happens.
You didn't feel for her at the end? Is it that she deserved it, or u just don't don't think it was sad?

Ajayi Damilare said...

wow!i have just finish reading the novel and i learnt a lot of lessons.I can't believe that Esi was so stupid in ending up miserably after divorcing her husband Oko and neglectig her daugther who need her.It was her radical way of life that made her end up in a bad way

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