I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
When Korede's dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what's expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This'll be the third boyfriend Ayoola's dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede's long been in love with him, and isn't prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other...
What an easy little book to swoop through, an ignore so many of the things about women’s lives that the author explores! I was eagerly slurping down the story, when I had to take a little break. And that little break got me thinking and suddenly the book was more than the story.
Korede and Ayoola are two halves of the same coin. Korede claims that she is ugly and that Ayoola is beautiful. (We have only her word for this and I just don’t find her to be the most reliable narrator). They get treated differently because of this difference--Korede learns the “homely woman” lessons. You must learn to cook and to keep house well because this is what you will be judged on. Ayoola get a pass on those skills. Korede also holds a responsible job outside the home, something that Ayoola also gets a pass on. And yet, Korede is so controlled, so obsessively clean and tidy--she needs Ayoola to clean up after.
The two sisters are involved in a complicated dance, stemming from their abusive father. Ayoola is the one who creates messes and Korede cleans them up. How many siblings have this dynamic, although not to this extreme. As a eldest sibling, how many times have I been tempted to meddle in my sisters’ lives when I haven’t been asked to? How many times have I bitten my tongue and listened, trying not to judge or offer unsolicited advice?
Plus, when you get a peek into a culture that’s not your own, how easy it is to see all the patriarchal expectations that shape female lives. The whole idea that being married and producing children is the main purpose of a woman’s life, that she should be willing to endure being beaten and abused to fulfill this purpose. No wonder Ayoola kills the men in her life--she’s just behaving like a man. Korede is trying to herd her back towards female behaviour norms, but ends up helping her because she also knows what it’s like to be shoved into the uncomfortable straight jacket of societal expectations.
It’s a wonder that so many of us choose to be Korede and not Ayoola.