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BN Book Review: Onaedo – The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Ngozi Achebe

Ink Eze

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We’ve heard your feedback and we are spinning things into action. You will be seeing new and revived features on BellaNaija.com covering a wider spectrum of content.
One of those is our book reviews. From popular favourites to new finds, we’ll read it and the review it.
Today, we review Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter, a new book from author – Ngozi Achebe.

Ngozi Achebe was raised in Nigeria and also spent time in England, where she was born. Her interest in 15th and 16th century history was the catalyst for writing Onaedo – The Blacksmith’s Daughter which is her debut novel. She currently lives in Olympia, Washington with her children Jennifer and Nnamdi and is a practicing physician.
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In a brief synopsis of the book from the author’s website, ‘Onaedo – The Blacksmith’s Daughter’ is described as “…a work of fiction and the tale of two women separated by four hundred years of history. Maxine, a modern American woman who is half-white and half-African comes across a set of diaries written by a slave in the 16th century and tries to write a book about it. She uses elements of the discovered diaries in her book and also information she has discovered herself based on ancient stories retold to her by a collaborator.

I have always loved books. On my entrance form to primary school I wrote reading and writing as my hobbies and meant it. Yes I know, I was a geeky child. At 10, I read ‘Things Fall Apart’ quickly followed by ‘Arrow of God’. These ‘post-colonial’ fiction novels were revolutionary for me not only because of their rich proverbs, characters that spoke and had the same names as myself and people I know, but also because they taught me about my pre-colonial culture.

This past week I had the privilege of reading one of such didactic yet entertaining books – ‘Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter’ by Ngozi Achebe. The novel is mostly set in a less chartered era for Nigerian writers – the era of Portuguese exploration and trading on the coast on West Africa, in the part we now know as Igbo Land. This novel is not only refreshing for its unique context, but also because it does not idealize its Igbo characters or completely demonize the Portuguese antagonists, however, I do not claim that previous novels in post-colonial literature are guilty of doing the opposite.

The novel about Onaedo is actually written by Maxine, a modern-day character who discovers slave diaries by chance at a neighbor’s yard sale. Perhaps because Maxine writes Onaedo’s story, the conversations in Onaedo’s era are far from pretentious. The word choice ranges from playful (amongst Onaedo and her friends), to formal to metaphorical to wise, as wide as a range that modern day conversations provide. There were some writing gems in the form of proverbs that anyone today would be wise to adhere to. This range of conversations makes Onaedo’s world seem more realistic and makes the novel itself more appealing to a variety of people. Yes, my 10-year old self would have approved.

As previously mentioned, we are not presented with an idealistic portrait of pre-colonial life. In the form of Oguebie, we are presented with a power-hungry brother that betrays his clan in the hopes of gaining power. In the form of Eneda, a skilled blacksmith and Onaedo’s father, we are privy to the entrepreneurship that the Igbo people are known for today. He is a man who gains respect using his God-given talent (to be more precise, talent from his chi). In detailing his profession, Ms. Achebe deftly uses descriptions of Igbo-Nkwu art to prove that Africans are far from the savages that we were portrayed to be by the travelogues of 16th century Europeans, stories of us that have persisted until today in our portrayal in Hollywood films and Western news media. In Pasquale, we are presented with a truly ambiguous character. We want to hate him for his role in the slave trade, yet his gentle nature and will to prove himself worthy back in Portugal shows that like a quilt composed of many fibers, Ms. Achebe’s characters are composed of many motivations, so it is sometimes hard to simply judge them. These ambiguities are especially true for the truly brave feminist hero, Onaedo’s aunt and midwife, Aku. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but she commits atrocities in order to maintain the status quo of society, and to maintain the dignity of those in her care.

Onaedo herself is also a sometimes morally ambiguous character. In many ways, she is a victim of circumstance, but she weaves through the challenges that life offers her – in the form of her love for a poor apprentice, her marriage, amongst other challenges with determination and a will to succeed that is enviable.

Ms. Achebe succeeds in this novel because whereby the novel could have been weighed down by historical facts and figures, she makes it a story of people simply trying to navigate new challenges at a time when the world was interacting like it never had before. My only gripe with the book was its ending. As sad as I was, I grudgingly recognize that my unresolved feeling reflects the emotion of many people in Onaedo’s shoes – helpless, yet hopeful.

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For more information about the author, visit her webpage at www.ngoziachebe.com
The novel can be purchased on her website as well as on Amazon.com

Ink Eze is the Founder of AsoEbiBella.com, a platform for sharing African traditional styles. She Modern Culture and Media at the Ivy League Brown University. She honed her skills in advertising and digital media at one of America’s leading tech companies in marketing. She became BellaNaija Weddings editor in 2013, and Assistant Editor of BellaNaija, heading the lifestyle section - Style, Beauty and Living until January 2017. Under her leadership, BN Weddings gained international prominence and became Africa’s foremost wedding media brand with millions of followers across several platforms and coverage on BuzzFeed, BBC & more. #AsoEbiBella became BellaNaija.com’s top feature, with over 1.8 million followers on Instagram. She conceived of BBN Wonderland, Nigeria’s top bridal event since 2015 with Baileys Nigeria. Now she spends her time on AsoEbiBella, and has executed marketing campaigns with local and international brands including HP Nigeria, Orijin and Sunlight Detergent. and sharing her insights with the world. For more Ink, join her on @Ink.Eze | @AsoEbiBella

21 Comments

  1. beezy

    July 19, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Thank you Bellanaija team…..for the first paragraph of this article…
    ……I’l be back with a proper comment after i’m done reading….

  2. adenike

    July 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    This looks like a good piece though you never can tell..But please where can one get a copy in Ibadan?

  3. Nefertity

    July 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    this is really cuuuuul! must ask, is she in any way related 2 chinua achebe?

  4. ink

    July 19, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Chinua Achebe is her uncle.

  5. Tiptoe

    July 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    Is the book for sale online?

  6. Tiptoe

    July 19, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Yes, it is on Amazon for sale…
    http://ngoziachebe.com/

  7. ThePoet

    July 19, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Haha I think I had a debate with the person that wrote this piece back in high school lol

  8. Myne Whitman

    July 19, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Thanks for starting book reviews. Is the concentration on books by Nigerian writers?

    I’m so going to pick up this one.

  9. Chantel

    July 19, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    This is a fantastic first Bella n crew….I would imagine this is on sale in Nigeria???Quintessence, Terra Kulture n This Day media store have never failed to stock great works such as I imagine this should be…hope this is not a vain hope though???lol!!
    Thanks guys…cant wait to read!

  10. MiaJadore

    July 20, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Sounds interesting…

  11. oki okigbo

    July 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    yep, have been to quintesence today and i cannot get it there.
    I was able to buy imagine this tho and there’s this gerat book on sale now,
    I DO NOT COME TO YOU BY CHANCE…

  12. vividdreams

    July 21, 2010 at 1:17 am

    Ngozi looks somewhat like Adaure Achumba.

  13. obi

    July 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    THE PREVIEW IS INTERESTING

  14. Nkechi

    July 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    The book will be officially released in Nigeria in November.

  15. Bibi

    July 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Hahahahahaha, I like how they boldly emphasized “ACHEBE” on the book cover!

  16. nmadisco

    July 22, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    That was an excellent preview!

  17. Abiola Ukan

    March 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    In Abuja, the book is available at Silverbird. That’s where I got mine.

  18. bibigirl

    July 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Ok so I am here to rant. After reading the review I decided I wanted to read the book immediately. I got the book as a gift via amazon so I can read on my kindle and what do i get when I try to download it? “sorry this title is not available to customers from Nigeria”. Excuse me??? Am i missing something here?

  19. bibigirl

    July 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

    ok so somehow I managed to download the book and after reading it, all I can say is if you haven’t read the book, you’re on a looooonnnngggggg thing!

  20. Idak

    September 24, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    so what happened to book reviews on this site?

  21. Olibae

    July 18, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I love this book. Couldn’t stop reading it till I finished.

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