How does a university-educated Ghanaian woman independent enough to divorce her first husband despite the objections of her traditional family wind up the second wife of a handsome philanderer?
Is it possible that the best way to really think about marriage is to approach it from a completely different perspective?
That perspective is the amazing gift of Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes: A Love Story, a book that grabbed me from minute one, and still had me turning pages until the last one. Esi is a wealthy, educated civil servant who loves her job. Her husband, Oko, feels neglected by her devotion to duty. Their clashes eventually lead to the dissolution of their marriage, although Esi’s “Western” notions of autonomy find little support even among her staunchest allies – her grandmother, her mother and her best friend are all perplexed by her desire to leave a perfectly good man.
If her dissatisfaction with her marriage is based on imported Western values, her fascination with Ali, the well-to-do travel agent, is completely primeval: they are attracted to each other from the second they meet, and soon start a steamy affair. Ali is obsessed with Esi, so much so that he becomes jealous of her, despite the fact he is himself cheating on his own family. The fact that he’s already married is not an insurmountable problem to possessing Esi in Ghanaian society: Ali can make Esi his second wife.
And that’s the most fascinating issue in the book. Living in a traditional society with a host of non-traditional ideas, Esi starts to see the things a marriage provides to women: security, partnership, networking. These are the things that Western ideas about marriage, focused almost completely on love, tend to ignore. She also looks at the negative aspects of marriage for women, including their presumed subservience to men in traditional relationships. Is it possible to find the perfect balance of freedom and dependency in any marriage? Could being a second wife allow a woman to live a less conventional lifestyle while still operating within the comfortable framework of a traditional society? I certainly never thought about it before I read Changes, but I will admit that the novel really forced me to think about relationships in a completely unique way.
It’s probably obvious that I loved this novel, and I’m really grateful to have found it because of Judith’s Book Bloggers Abroad 2011 Challenge at Leeswammes! I would absolutely recommend this book to lovers of world fiction and feminist fiction, as well as those who are interested in African literature. But I really believe the book deserves a wider audience, as it speaks to the very essence of what makes society work. Aidoo writes beautifully and with great compassion – I will definitely seek out more of her work.