Book Review: The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

The Son of the House – Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia (Dundurn Press, 2019)

Nwabulu and Julie are thrown together when they are kidnapped on a lonely road in Nigeria. Waiting for their families to pay ransom, they begin to tell each other their life stories. With their own mortality at hand, they are completely honest in ways they have never been before and find themselves pulled together in ways they could not have predicted.

Nwabulu tells her own story, sent out as a housemaid after her father’s death. She dreams of education and independence but when she falls in love with the son of a wealthy neighbouring family, her future is thrown off course.

Julie was the only daughter of a professor, educated and quite well off. She works as a teacher, living on her own, wooed by a married man who wants her to become his second wife.

In the end, the kidnapping feels mostly like a plot device and takes up very little actual action on the page. While this felt like a bit of a cheap tactic, Onyemelukwe-Onuobia does a great job of bringing these two women to life. Their voices are distinct and enjoyable. Both very different – with drastically varied backgrounds and family histories – they share a desire to control their own choices and destinies. A desire that is difficult to fulfill in the 1970s of Nigeria, where women largely belong to their fathers or husbands and even after marriage, much of their power comes from their ability to bear sons. As the titles suggests, the son of the house holds the ultimate power. And as we learn, this comes to bear in a variety of situations.

The book has some of the unevenness of a first-time novel but still carries a lot of power and insight. It’s not hard to care about these women, even as we may watch their choices in dismay,

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia”

  1. This cover looks so familiar to me – did it end up winning any awards? I can see why the kidnapping comes off as a bit of a tactic when it’s not really a pivotal part of the plot, but as you said, this is a first-time novelist. Hopefully there is more to come!

    1. I can’t think of anything it won but it was on the Giller Longlist. That’s where it first came on my radar.

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