Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: Ama Ata Aidoo's Changes, A Love Story

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.


  1. This sounds really interesting, Col! Glad my challenge made you read it. I read a total of 1 book from my own challenge, myself. :-(

    This book sounds like it is interesting for women anywhere.

  2. I totally overdid the challenges this year and am frantically trying to wrap a couple more up. In fact, I'm probably not going to do any next year because I'm so frustrated right now.

    BUT. This is exactly the reason challenges are so great! I'm glad you found such a good book and a new author to follow. Superficially, it sounds like something I would hate, but from your review I can see that's not the case.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. @Judith -- It was very different, and I really think it would appeal to a wide variety of readers.

    @Karen -- I am in the same place. I enter challenges to push my boundaries, which is why I love the geography- and period-based challenges. But entering the number of challenges I did also means I haven't done anything but play catch up since Thanksgiving, which I'm not really enjoying. Next year I'm going to try doing fewer challenges to avoid feeling pressured at the end of the year!

  4. I love it when a book grabs you from the get go! Thanks for sharing this review!

  5. Oh, wow! This sounds intense -- just reading your description pulled up all kinds of complicated feelings for me -- which is usually sign this is an issue I should explore even if it's uncomfortable. Am adding this to my TBR thanks to your review!

  6. You've made me very curious about how this book made you think about relationships.

  7. @Audra and @Kathy -- You know how in anthropology there's a saying that the last thing in the world a fish would ever notice is water? I think marriage is like that. We think we know what marriage is, and of course we do. But when you see it from the perspective of another culture, you start to focus on aspects of marriage that aren't emphasized in your own culture -- like the security or alliance aspects of marriage -- and you are forced to reevaluate the institution based on different yardstick. That's what I was talking about in the review.

  8. @Col: Exactly -- and it touches upon my own personal issues with self-value in a relationship, etc. Really interesting stuff -- can't wait to read this one!

  9. wow, this sounds amazing and right up my alley! i'm going to look for it today!

  10. This sounds like the kind of novel that I love -- a wonderful story with vibrant characters, but also one that makes you think deeply about a larger societal issue.

    I saw your comment about over-extending yourself on challenges and then having to play catch up. I did that in 2010 and this year, I went the other way and entered only one. I'm not sure what I'll do next year -- there's got to be a happy medium, lol.


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col