ama ata aidoo//changes: a love story - part two


I mentioned, in a previous blog, that I would say a few more words about Changes: A Love Story. So here are a few words. I must admit that, before this book, I had never read any of Ama Ata Aidoo's fiction. What put her on my list of favorite writers was an article she wrote, called "To Be a Woman," that I read in college and championed as somewhat of an African feminist manifesto.

"They had always told me that I wrote like a man. Read: a bold and legible script. They had always told me that I drove like a man. Read: relaxed steering, near-perfect reflexes, a predilection for speed...Now I speak English like a man? Read: an over-all confident handling of the language, perhaps? Since doing anything "like-a-man" implies that you are doing whatever it is impressively, it should be submitted that not only aptitude and skill but also expertise, professionalism, diligence, perfection, talent, genius--are all masculine."

Heady stuff for an afro-wearing, conscious nineteen-year-old with a fairly large chip on her shoulder. If I read it now--ten years later, over my nightly cup of chamomile tea--I probably wouldn't be as moved. But I digress.

In theory, Changes is also somewhat of a treatise about emancipated women, led by a statistician and mother, Esi, who finds her sexual liberation after divorcing her husband, kicking him out of their home and sending her daughter to live with her mother-in-law. Esi is that woman who is insatiable, whom you can never please or appease, who is quite satisfied altogether alone or with company, whichever she chooses. Until she meets a charismatic man, Ali, who quite turns her life upside down when he woos and convinces her to become his second wife. As you might guess, things descend from there.

This book has sex and love and violence and betrayal, the kind of things that make your toes curl. I was shocked and amazed that this kind of woman (Aidoo), with round cheeks and a placid smile, would write such bold things in the pages of a book. So amazed, in fact, that I turned the pages incredulously for about three hours, till I'd quite finished the book.

I suppose I was caught up in the myth that African women don't write about sex and love. Of course, I have plenty of examples to contradict this, but somehow it always comes back to the mainstays of politics and education and poverty.

I'm not quite sure I could ever write a proper love story. My characters often end up estranged as I am utterly unable, most times, to imagine an alternative. Something egalitarian and mutually beneficial and supportive just seems like a fairytale.

In fact, some of the first books I remember reading were my mother's Harlequin romance novels that she got for free with the batches of Avon products she sold to her friends. They were thick, red-covered books filled with confident women and gallant men, their emotions wreaking havoc on their bodies, so that the men, with their manhoods throbbing, usually buried their faces in the women's breasts. Even then, as a girl, I knew that there was something equally taboo and vital about this writing. That love was essential, though I thought it mostly lived in books and movies.

So stated. Henceforth, I've decided that it is in fact revolutionary for African women writers to write about love that ends well. In a world of wars and hunger and cholera, to not write about those things seems quite extraordinary, and to write about a love that heals and nurtures and brings back to life is visionary.

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