Sunday, June 27, 2010

Onaedo: The Blacksmith's Daughter by Ngozi Achebe

Maxine is a modern woman who will soon be reunited with her Nigerian father after a 30 year absence. Coincidentally, through an old friend, she discovers a box of ancient hand-written journals. She becomes intrigued when she discovered they were written over 400 years ago from a young woman in the same tribe as that of her father. As she reads the diaries, she finds herself drawn to the poignant tale that sweeps her into 16th century Africa to the roots of the slave trade.

The journal is that of a 15 year old girl, on the verge of womanhood, named Onaedo. Onaedo leads an idyllic life where she experiences first love, marriage, motherhood, and lives in relative peace with her family and friends. Her father is a talented blacksmith, renowned for his intricate work who wants her to marry an eligible man of equal wealth. Her kind, elder brother, Udemezue, escorts Onaedo and her best friend Adanma to a gathering. There, Onaeda meets her secret love, Dualo, a poor young man considered unsuitable to be her husband. Later, when Onaedo learns that Dualo has suddenly left town without word of his return, she reluctantly marries Amechi, a man who ultimately disappoints her.

But Onadeo makes the most of her unhappy marriage, until one day when Portuguese men pluck her from the land and abduct her.  She is placed on a slave shift and taken to Sao Tome where she is thrust into slavery.  But good fortune smiles upon her and she encounters a kind slave master and works as a servant inside the manor.

The novel is a gentle read, easy to escape into and relish its vibrant descriptions. Because the author, Dr. Ngozi Achebe’s roots are in Nigeria, her passion for the country and its history became evident on every page. As I read, I could not help but become enthralled with Onaedo whose adolescent life mirrors our own, but also differs because of fascinating cultural differences. There are strong, endearing characters, onerous villains, and plenty of ancient superstitions and beliefs that weave through this rich tale. But above all, this is the story of a humble, but wise, young woman who must endure incredible loss, who bravely faces an uncertain future and endures slavery in order to survive. The tale also encompasses the loss of the family and clearly depicts their pain as they search for their stolen loved ones.

I truly enjoyed reading this novel because of its unique setting and because it exposed me to a an old culture I knew little about. And that is the essence of what a good historical novels should do! The story ended soon after Onaeda became a slave, far too soon for me, and it left me longing to read on. However, I suspect that there will be a sequel which will continue Onaeda’s story, and I eagerly anticipate its release. Dr. Acebe has created a memorable, true to life, female heroine who defines innocence and courage and brings to life a colourful, but shameful era of history.  A very well written, endearing story.