This is an amazingly well written book with deeply flawed characters who are in turn both understandable and detestable. My opinions on the characters changed so much over the course of the novel.
It stars out when Yejide finds out her husband Akin has–against her wishes–taken a second wife. The reason is that after four years of marriage, she has still not conceived. They’ve been to doctors and the doctors tell her she’s perfectly fertile. He says he’s fine too. But still no baby.
Then Yejide does a mystic ceremony with a shaman and when she comes down from the mountain she says she is pregnant. Her belly begins to swell and she shows all the signs of pregnancy, except that when they do the ultrasound and other tests, they find that there’s no baby in her. It’s a strange madness. The desire to have a baby controls her life, and the focus of their marriage.
The story is told in alternating sections from present day to past, so we get hints that Yejide has babies that are lost to her. We also learn in the present day that Akin and his brother Dotun have had a grievous falling out and have not spoken to one another for a very long time, and that Yejide has been away from her husband for a very long time as well. As the novel goes on, we see the cause of both of these estrangements as stemming from some choices that the main characters made. I have to be coy about the plot, because it would spoil the story to know too much.
In the background, the country of Nigeria is undergoing political turmoil and they’re about to have elections which will supposedly supplant the military rule. There’s death and tragedy aplenty in this story, but it’s not about the political situation, just among it.
What was brilliant about this story is the way in which the characters make huge sacrifices for the sake of their loved ones which end up hurting the people they care most about. I almost stopped reading at several points, because the characters did things I thought were unconscionable. But it was for book club so I trundled on, and I’m glad I did. The story made me cry in several parts, but it had a very satisfying ending. I feel like it would merit a second reading, because there were things that happened in the first chapters which weren’t really understandable until I knew the backstory. Since I almost never reread books, I’m going to dock a star for that, making this merely an excellent book and not necessarily a flawless one.