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A Review of Chika Unigwe’s Night Dancer

By Nkem Egenuka on Thu, 16/02/2017 - 17:19

The novel opens in Enugu in 2001 and follows a young woman named Mma. Her parents separated when she was just a baby and, despite the presence of serious boyfriend Obi, she is left quite alone after her mother Ezi’s untimely death.

In the 1970s, a young university-educated woman called Ezi tries to conceive a child with her husband. In her traditional Nigerian Igbo culture, it is the wife's duty to produce children, most importantly a son. When she fails, Ezi's mother-in-law turns against her. Her husband still loves her but is desperate for a male heir. Depressed and restless, Ezi wants to work, but her husband believes her place is in the home, so she spends her days knitting. When she eventually gets pregnant, she is ecstatic. When the child is born, it is a girl.

Meanwhile, her husband had been having an affair with their teenage maid, Rapu, who gives birth to his longed-for son. It is expected that Ezi will accept Rapu as her husband's second wife, but she's having none of it and bravely leaves the marriage to raise her daughter alone. This incurs the wrath of everyone, and her parents disown her. The whole family is shamed by association, and Ezi's younger sister will not now be able to find a husband

Mma is resentful of her mother and the upbringing she has had. A fractured relationship between mother and daughter has existed since she was a child, and the disparities between the characters is one of the pivotal overriding themes in the novel.

Following her death, Mma uncovers a collection of Ezi’s memoirs which her mother had urged her to read on several occasions. She was reluctant to do so, as “she was afraid that the letters might reveal something that would call into question all her righteous indignation at the dead woman”. The truths which Unigwe weaves through her narrative often have a moving quality about them. By transcribing some of the memoirs in the narrative, a multi-layered story is created.

Adamma later goes on a journey to find the father she has never known. She hopes one day to be considered respectable enough for marriage, but without a father to give her away or any known relatives, men abandon her.



Chika Unigwe was born in Enugu, Nigeria, and now lives in Turnhout, Belgium, with her husband and four children. She writes in English and Dutch.

In April 2014 she was selected for the Hay Festival's Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with potential and talent to define future trends in African literature.
Unigwe holds a BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and an MA from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. She also holds a PhD from the University of Leiden, The Netherlands, having completed a thesis entitled "In the shadow of Ala. Igbo women writing as an act of righting" in 2004.








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