Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko is a novel set between the early 80s and current day Nigeria and the story follows Morayo, a young girl growing up in Ibadan. In the beginning, we meet Morayo and her sister, Eniayo, who is an albino and their age of innocence as they go through primary school, making friends and getting into scrapes at home and in their neighbourhood. In this first part of the book, the setting is beautifully illustrated in words and events that bring the reader right into all the nooks and crannies of Ibadan as seen through a little girl’s eyes.
Soon after Morayo enters secondary school and begins to know what it feels like to be attracted to boys, the story becomes darker. The political atmosphere around the city and the children become more tense and disturbing and Morayo’s unruly cousin, Bros T, comes to live with them when her widowed aunt asks her father to take him in so he could have a man’s influence. While Morayo is coming to grips with the brutality to women that prevail in the wider society, Bros T adds to the mix by becoming overly attentive and affectionate, with hugs and borderline inappropriate touches. One night, when they are both alone in the house, he actually rapes her.
This begins the most painful part of the book as Morayo battles the feelings of confusion and depression that the rape raises in her. Yejide’s writing highlights all the angst and changes of an unmoored teenage girl as she goes through pain and despair that she cannot discuss with those around her. Even when she finally discloses her rape and Bros T is sent away, her parents impose a code of silence on her, ostensibly to protect her younger sister. On the verge of suicide, Morayo is interrupted by her Aunt Morenike and finally opens up about how what had happened has affected her. This is the beginning of Morayo’s redemption as she finds release in talking about her experience and getting support.
More than that, Morenike had also walked the same path as a teenager and through her own story, we get to see not only how patriarchy and some aspects of Nigerian culture can work to cover and perpetuate child sexual abuse, but also we see the power and strength of women. Through the women in Morenike’s family, Yejide demonstrates how victims of abuse may overcome their pain. Morenike was raped by a family friend when she was 15, becoming pregnant and having to drop out of school. But while Morayo’s mother could not talk about her rape with her, Morenike’s mother confronts her daughter’s rapist and ensures that Morenike has support as she goes on to give birth to a son.
The book continues as Morayo continues to university and shows how she deals with conflicting emotions of who she is and how the people around perceive her. The reader gets to see how deeply the rape had traumatized her and how the need to be in charge affects her relationships. A couple of romantic threads with male figures in her life are explored at this point which allow Morayo to learn some lessons about herself. In the end she meets an early love interest and in being open with him is able to come to terms with who she is. Still, she has to meet Bros T again and revisit her pain to be able to fully heal and move on.
Daughters who walk this Path paints the picture of women in Nigeria and who could be women anywhere. The characters are fully realized and are people anyone might recognize or identify with, and this means that the book is all the more moving and compelling. My only issue with the book was that it seemed to want to write everything about Nigeria and the cultures in one book that already has its remit defined. The foray into elections and the political machinery was unnecessary as was the introduction of the issue of inter-ethnic marriage. Otherwise, Yejide writes very well, in language that is easy and engaging, and any reader will find themselves running the whole gamut of feelings, from laughter to tears and back, by the time the book concludes.