Read: The Son of The House

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Nigerian author Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s debut novel tells the story of two women who met under difficult circumstances, 40 years after an incident that changed their lives. Irna Van Zyl spoke to.

What was your inspiration for The Son of the House? 

The inspiration for the core of the story came from a true-life story my mother told me. It made me think about how not so uncommon these stories of loss and of certain traditions and their impacts are. 

Then, of course, several of the themes would be recognisable by people from my part of Nigeria. I wanted to capture these in a story that would be human, relatable, universal. 

From the acknowledgments in the back of the book it seems as if it was quite a journey to write the book, as it often is with a debut novel. Tell us more about this journey, and how long you worked on it. 

As is the case for most books, the ideas in it have swirled around in various manifestations in my head for years.

In terms of the actual writing, I was determined to write a novel after my third child was born, and I worked on it for about two years. Then I started sending it out. Earlier versions of the book got quite a few rejections. 

But each time, something would happen to make me think there was something there, a kind feedback here and there, my own returning to it and thinking, ‘this isn’t bad,’ and eventually a really lovely ‘yes’ with huge compliments that made me wonder if it was the same manuscript that had been rejected several times.  

Cheluchi-Onyemelukwe-Onuobia
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe Onuobia

What about the other characters in the novel – where do they come from? Are they based on people you know? 

That’s a good question. People would say that they recognise themselves in there; others say they see me in a character or another. 

There are some loose frames, but in general the characters are in some ways composites of people rather than specific individuals, with a lot made up. 

What I wanted, was to develop a realistic picture, in characters, in the settings, in the themes, with no contrivance whatsoever.  

What I found interesting, is how gender relationships have changed in Nigeria over the 40 years during which the book plays off, as it has all over the world. How strong is a woman’s social standing in modern-day Nigeria? 

Change is relative, isn’t it? In some ways, there are changes; in others, not so much; in others, maybe even a step backwards. 

Fertility is still a big issue, playing out now with fertility clinics, surrogates, etc., and women still get the short end of the stick. Mutual respect in marriage is still an evolving concept, and domestic violence is still quite high. 

The differences between rich and poor remain significant. While certain traditions do not hold as strong, we have some ways to go in gender relations and minimising the gap between the rich and the poor.  

You are a lawyer and an academic who spends your time between Nigeria and Canada. What is next for you? 

More writing! I am working on a novel and a law text at the moment. 

 

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