I am grateful to the author for giving me the opportunity to review her soul-stirring, breathtaking, disturbing yet inspiring book. It’s been a while I have been meaning to comment on the subject of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, and Mrs. Amara Van-Lare, by making me her book’s reviewer handed me a brilliant opportunity to ventilate my views on one of the world’s most troubling and trending issues currently affecting and afflicting families.
I started and finished reading this book in three hours-the first time I read it. Then I read it a second time over a period of one week. The first time, I was angry, very angry, angry about the horrors a young woman went through in marriage which otherwise should be blissful. On the second missionary journey, I felt a double paroxysm of sadness and joy-sadness, again because of Chika’s horrifying experiences but joy because she survived and still had the presence of mind to share the experience in an everlasting platform, a book, a FICTIONALIZED BIOGRAPHY, which we have gathered here today to launch.
Rather than do the usual, go from chapter to chapter, I would take a slightly different approach to reviewing this book. I had so many questions flooding through my mind, like a raging river (apologies to the author) as I went from page to page. How do you know a man who beats his wife? Why would parents just give away their young child just because they think they know the family of the groom? Why do abused women remain in abusive marriages? Why do many of them still sleep with their abusers and even get pregnant and bear children with them? Why do most abused women not speak out? Why is society always focused on (and more interested in) marriages not failing? Why do men even beat their wives? Why? Why? Why? Too many whys! Too many questions!
Before I delve into the questions though, I must commend the simple story-telling technique deployed by the author. For those who grew up in rural Nigeria, the images and scenes are all too familiar but for foreigners, the author, using Chika, calmly leads you into the life of a girl child born, bred and buttered (in a manner of speaking) in a rural African setting. The graphic details and occasional appeal to emotions brought the real essence of the story home right from the outset. I totally enjoyed the first person narrative which lends itself easily to early adoption such that the reader begins to feel what the writer was feeling-which was why I became angry not too long after I started reading.
The author is adept at seeking and getting attention (not just by her looks and comportment, for those who have interacted with her) but also because almost every page held a surprise no matter how small. For a trained motivational speaker, she did a great job of dropping wise words here and there, now and then for any careful reader. Admirably, she told the bitter-sweet story of her life in one fell swoop leaving a discerning reader to draw life-changing lessons from the milestones, the highs and the low. She deserves commendation.
As they say, there is no writer whose work cannot be improved upon by a careful and diligent Editor, and so it with The Raging Rivers. I suppose the Editor (s) will take care of some of the minor errors, which did nothing to vitiate the effect of the story or damage the integrity of the publishers or that of the author. Expressions like “every timeI came first position” (PP.19) and “when Felicity passed out” (PP.37) must have escaped the editor and must be changed next print. And there are a few others like that. That said; let me now go straight to the questions.
How do you know a man who beats his wife? Well, there’s no art to show the mind’s construction in the face, according to William Shakespeare. Even my great grandmother said so. Now, if you remember when my father was asking about Prof. Utomi, I really couldn’t tell. He and his wife appeared very much cool, from what I saw when I visited them.
That may not be a tamper-proof guide to the level of violence in the home of the Utomis, but I make bold to say that the Pat Utomi I have come to know, love and respect for over 25 years is incapable of hitting anybody much less his wife. But same could not be said of Chika’s husband, regardless of the pretensions and the shows he and Chika put up in the public.
So, it is important for women (and parents, to some extent-since parents still play a significant role in their children’s marriages in Africa) to investigate their would-be husbands and sons in-laws-to-be, as the case may be.
In God we trust, others we investigate, it is said. You cannot be too careful, but if you look close, you will discover that man is very aggressive and will not hesitate to hit you. Flee. In Chika’s case, she reckoned the man would be disrespectful but didn’t bargain with the aggression and violence.
Why would parents just give away their young children away just because they think they know the family of the groom? Poverty is one. Naivety is another. It could be a combination of both. The other is religious belief and culture. In the case of Chika, I believe her parents were naïve and also misguided by religion and culture.
The fact that their daughter was going to be married into the highly “respected” family of Elder Simeon was all they wanted. To them, every other thing shall be added unto them-including love, affection and respect for their child. It didn’t happen so. I have personally come to the conclusion that women who come from families like Chika’s or women who married their husbands against parental advice are somehow prone to abuse and domestic violence.
John took advantage of the fact that Chika’s parents wouldn’t make trouble and very pious Christians who would rather fast and pray than encourage their child to leave her marriage.
This leads me to the third question: Why is society always focused on (and more interested in) marriages not failing? Pay attention to Chika here on page 100: “My mother, at this point, knew what was happening to me, but kept it away from my father. She wanted peace to reign; she didn’t want her daughter’s marriage to fail.” See what I mean? Often, we live to meet the expectations and approval of others, of our parents, of society and not our own-we, that wear the shoes and definitely know where they pinch.
Even Chika herself, was guilty of this “crime”, and that was why I was initially mad at her. Why would she be “looking good” wearing fancy sunglasses, in her own words, just to make a wretched life and live in denial? But that was what she did for14 years and 4 children, until the scales dropped from her bloodied eyes. In Chika’s own words, “whenever you see a woman always wearing those beautiful shades, please look deeper and render help-if you can.”
Logically, my next question is “so why do abused women remain in abusive marriages? There are so many reasons, including the fact, as I stated above, that most parents and families do not want their children’s marriages to fail. Even many of the victims don’t want their marriages to fail. So, they dig in, and manage marriage.
Some women are greedy even at the point of death. They are so fascinated by the cars (Chika got latest SUVs with personalized number plates), the jewelry (Chika got gold and diamonds) and the designer clothes, shoes and bags (Chika got these too in trailer loads) yet, they are beaten, bruised and battered like our counterpart, Chika.
Again, Chika writes: “those who should have walked away and lived stayed and died.” Of course, some of the women are scared of the stigma and derision still associated with separation and divorce in these parts. Women, more than the men, are held responsible for the success or failure of their marriages even when marriage is still a union of two equal partners. How sad!
Another reason abused women stay in abusive marriages is often the children. You will hear questions like “whom do I leave the children for?” “Can my children survive without me?” And so on and so forth. Well, if you are not sure of the answers, ask Mrs. Shode who was reportedly killed by her husband. I am sure they are back in school and life continues-even if their father is in detention and waiting for trial and possible imprisonment at best or death by hanging-if murder is proven. So, there is no reason whatsoever to remain in an abusive marriage.
One of the questions I always wanted an answer to is why many abused women still sleep with their abusers and even get pregnant and bear children with them? Chika answered it in very cold but honest words. Hear her on page 99:
“Are you in the habit of insulting abused women for making babies for their abusive husbands? Don’t blame them. An abuser makes you feel worthless and useless without him. Abusive men always seek to subdue and enslave. Does a slave say no to his master?”
Look, it’s only those who have been experienced abuse in their marriages that can tell how it is. As we say in my village in Mbaise, a man whose “equipment” is fully in order and functional does not know what a man who is suffering elephantiasis of the scrotum is going through. Be that as it may, the mere thought that a man could beat the hell out his wife, strip her naked and forcefully sleep with her-and even get her pregnant-is luciferous! Looking back, though, Chika sure has no regrets as the children that came from those heart-rending experiences today bring her so much joy.
Perhaps, my last question I want to answer, before I sit down-and you can find many answers that bother you and bother me in the book, is why do men beat their wives? There are several. One is insecurity. Another is low self-esteem and mighty ego. The other is obsession. And yet another is upbringing. Hard drug is possibly another reason. Let me first treat upbringing: A man who grew up to see his father batter his mother may think that’s the way to go. As we say in my village, if a bad behavior continues for a long time, it becomes tradition. Now you can know how family traditions evolve. It could also work in reverse such that a man who grew up in a home where his father brutalized his mother could swear to be different from his father. It’s always a choice, but you know how quickly people learn to do evil than good.
I will not end this review without mentioning the role of friends and other people in situations of abusive marriages, and indeed in times of trouble. If Chika has forgiven the lecherous Police Commissioner, who wanted to take advantage of her, when she was thrown out of her home, I have not. That was imbecilic! But then again that’s reality. A woman in Chika’s condition is a vulnerable woman. Wolves in sheep’s skin would be gamming
her for dinner (pun fully intended). Then, some friends will mock and scorn you; many will not believe you and some will ask whether you are the only one with such a problem. Of course some, who have no idea what you’re going through, will immediately brand you an ashawo (a woman of easy virtue). And if your case is like Chika’s, where her estranged husband sponsored press articles to slur her image, then you’re dead woman walking.
The ever so unfair and unforgiving society will blame it all on the woman, just believing the single narrative. Thankfully, Amara, sorry Chika, has told her story and the rest, as they say, is now water under the bridge.
Chika, if you read through Chapters 7 and 8, kept referring to John as her husband. She confessed to John’s generosity towards her and the children. He lavished money, cars and gifts on her, which she found extremely repulsive at a point ostensibly because of the humiliations she received regardless. If the paradox of John’s meanness and generosity baffles me, it didn’t baffle Chika, because she knew John was OBSESSED with her. And that was the problem. OBSSESSION!!!
Ladies and gentlemen, marriages are seriously on trial. There has never been a worse time than now for marriages with so many interferences including social media, television and a society that’s fast tending towards permissibility. Now, I can’t say with empirical authority whether more marriages are experiencing abuse and violence today or we have more access to information so we know more. Anyhow, fact remains that the marriage institution is under serious pressure.
And this book by Mrs. Amara Van-Lare is coming at a most opportune time. In Ibadan early this year, Yewande Ajanaku, a lawyer and a staff of the Directorate of Public Prosecution at the Ministry of Justice, Ibadan, Oyo state, stabbed her husband to death after a domestic tussle.By the way, if John had dared Chika the day she held an iron spoon in the kitchen, who knows what would have been the consequence.
Chika, probably, would have been in the news long before Mrs. Oyediran. Of course, we remember the more recent case of the Shodes vividly, where the husband went into hiding after allegedly killing his wife. Also, the other day, I saw photos of another woman, this time in Oshodi, who was slaughtered like a ram by her husband. It is very scary indeed!
The author, in simple, easy and everyday English language told a very vivid story, which transcended the thematic pillar of her book, which is DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, and touched on teen marriage, the girl-child abuse (from boys to men and even from so called men of God), Lesbianism in girls’ schools and the power-play that goes on-sometimes unnoticed-in religious organizations.
At the end of the day, my position is that, it is possible for mistakes to have been made along the line and you wind up with a violent man. Well, my sister (and some brothers who also face abuses in their marriages) the first day he (or she) slaps or hits you should be the last time. Never fear what your parents, friends or society will say. FLEE. You may not survive the second time.
So, before I shut up, let me congratulate the author for finding the time and courage to tell such a compelling, compassionate and confounding story which, I believe, is a must for every married woman, every young woman ready for marriage, everyman and indeed everybody.
There is a lesson or lessons for everyone in these 182 pages. I hope the author is strongly considering making this book into a movie because her story is so picturesque, so vivid, so real and can make for a best-selling blockbuster, better than some things I see on Nollywood. When the time comes and the cash starts rolling in, remember it was my idea.
Thank you all for your time and attention.
God bless you!
Director, Corporate Communications & CSR