Almost every young Nigerian woman who is above the age of 25 years old can relate to the constant prodding and endless banters they get from their family members, friends, and society if, God forbid, she is still unmarried at that ‘big age’. If the woman now happens to clock the age of 30 and above without the ‘crown of her head’ in view, she will automatically become everyone’s prayer point, because, in the Nigerian society, a woman’s biggest achievement in life is to be able to secure a life partner regardless of whatever means she intends to make that happen. Her plethora of successes amounts to nothing if she doesn’t have a ‘head’ to confidently make her ‘neck’ straight. This reinforces the fact that a woman can only be respected wholesomely once she finally settles down.
Yinka, the protagonist of this novel, is a thirty-one-year-old British-Nigerian lady who is Oxford-educated and has a good-paying job that any millennial could ever dream of, but seems jinxed according to her family members because she hasn’t had a new man in life ever since her ex-boyfriend, Femi, broke up with her abruptly. It doesn’t help that her younger sister, Kemi, whom she is at least five years older than, is already married and expecting a baby, or that her cousin, Rachel, will be getting married soon to the absolute love of her life. Oh, and there is also Ola, one of her cousins who happens to be her age mate but is already married with three beautiful kids. Clearly, Yinka is bound to be a huge source of concern to her immediate and extended family for finding it difficult to keep any man at all.
She decides to take the bull by the horn, by coming up with different strategies that will enable her to secure a date for her cousin’s wedding. She starts by creating a manual spreadsheet in her notebook tagged “operation wedding date”. In it, she highlights the objectives, tasks, deadlines, and key performance indicators needed to make her brilliant plan a reality. She takes the bold step of signing up on an online dating site – contrary to her principle – with the hope of finding a suitable partner for the big day. Amidst all this chaos, she gets relieved of her job due to downsizing at her place of work. Instead of focusing on how to get another job, she diverts most of her energy towards finding a good match. Alas, all her efforts amount to nothing, and after much persuasion from her mother and her obnoxious aunty Debbie, she decides to meet Alex, a man who Aunty Debbie swears to be kind and respectful, with a decent source of income.
Alex matches up to all the good qualities Aunty Debbie has earlier pointed out, and Yinka honestly feels she has it going good and can finally rest her ‘partner-searching boots’ until disappointment rears up its ugly head, and Alex professes his unending love for Yinka’s best friend and flatmate, Nana, after meeting her briefly. This does not deter her in any way from actualizing her dreams, after all, as the Naija slang goes, “agenda must agendalize”. After mourning what could have been between her and Alex and also reducing communication with him, she decides to reach out to Emmanuel whose mother thinks they would make her a good match together. But then again, her hopes get shattered after the shallow-minded man blatantly tells her over the video call that he is only attracted to light-skinned girls as opposed to Yinka’s lovely, dark, rich skin.
The author of this amazing novel, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn, explores various issues by weaving them all in a captivating manner to establish her points regardless of the novel being a romantic comedy. Some of these issues are:
Colourism is that menace that has eaten deeply into society’s standard of beauty as mainstream media keeps perpetuating the erroneous narrative that a lighter complexion is more attractive than a darker shade. Lizzie gives us a detailed insight into the life of a regular, dark-skinned woman navigating the dating pool, and how difficult that can be. An instance of colorism in the novel worthy of note is the insensitive statement of Emmanuel, where he clearly states his complexion preference and subtly labels Yinka as an unattractive, dark-skinned lady. This statement of his opens up different cans of insecurities that Yinka has locked away in the past, and for the first time in her life, she considers bleaching her skin just to get accepted and desired by men.
Although the setting of the novel is in Peckham, London, this doesn’t negate the fact that colourism is our reality in Nigeria. There are so many uncertified, self-acclaimed skin therapists on Instagram who are notorious for selling ‘seven days organic whitening cream’, ‘oshaprapa body soap, and half-caste body oil to achieve a flawless, glowing, biracial complexion. If we are to look past the ridiculousness and theatrics of these names, because, for starters, no organic product is supposed to whiten you in seven days, we’d find out that these half-baked skin therapists have a large following of customers who are mostly ladies. The simple explanation for this menace is that society has normalised colourism unashamedly.
From a very young age, Yinka has struggled to love herself as a skinny, black girl in contrast to her light-skinned, fleshy sister. She finds some succour from the soothing words of her father who constantly reminds her that even though the sun and the moon are different, they are both beautiful and they serve different purposes uniquely. She grows up with this mindset instilled by her late father, not until she encounters some difficulties in getting a partner and almost decides to succumb to society’s standard of beauty. Her oldest maternal aunty, Blessing, and her best friend, Nana, teaches her the importance of self-love because for you to love another human truly, you have to love every bit of yourself – your insecurities, imperfections, and every other thing in-between.
Yinka is so fixated on getting approval from her family, and in the process, loses herself until she realises that there is more to life than getting married and having kids without being fulfilled, just like in the case of her cousin, Ola. She decides to take charge of her destiny and starts focusing on the things that bring her satisfaction, loving herself passionately and practically stops worrying endlessly about what the future holds. And just when she begins to go with the alignment of life and taking each day as it comes, love finds her in the form of Donovan, her camp buddy from her teenage years.
The Pressure on Women to Get Married
Throughout the novel, Yinka’s mother and all her relatives keep worrying about her inability to keep a man, as if a man is an object that should be kept. According to society, it is expected for every right-thinking woman to settle down at a particular phase in her life, and when she fails to manifest this, she is termed a failure for not being able to achieve this great feat. Never mind that a man of that same age will seldomly get pestered like the lady because he is a man and he just really hasn’t made up his mind yet to settle down and be another human’s head and crown.
The subtle rebranding of Peckham and the preservation of culture
Peckham has always been seen as the Oshodi of Lagos, due to the number of Nigerians who live there, especially the Yorubas. I love how the author deftly rebrands the perception of Peckham as a ghetto and instead portrays it as a warm, lovely place that can now be considered safe to live in and also raise kids.
The preservation of the Nigerian culture can also be seen throughout the novel. Yinka portrays a well-behaved, cultured Yoruba girl in an enviable and elegant style.
Yinka Where Is Your Huzband? is a masterpiece of art that has left me in great awe of the author’s brilliance.
My verdict: Everyone should read it.