For a first time novelist, Yejide Kilanko writes with a level of maturity, elegance, and power that belies her relative newness to the writing craft. Published by Penguin Canada, her debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, is set in modern day Nigeria and tells the story of a young girl growing up in a society that remains largely patriarchal and where old traditions, good and bad, still abound.
The story opens with Morayo recalling the birth of her sister, Eniayo, who it turns out, is no ordinary child. Eniayo’s looks cause quite a stir in the family and get the neighbors talking. Even the little Morayo is taken aback, and only the assurance of her mother gets Morayo to accept her sister as a normal child and sister.
All is well at home until the day Bros.T, the wayward son of their Aunty Tope, comes to live with the family after being expelled from school. A disturbing event involving Bros. T leaves Morayo humiliated, and scarred. Confronted by her shame and betrayed by those closest to her, Moraye feels isolated and alone, until she finds a confidant in her Aunty Morenike.
“Aunt Morenike,… He raped me.” As I said the words out loud, I felt an intense sense of relief. He did not just come to my room at night. He did not just “touch me.”. He did not just lift up my skirts. I said it again: “He raped me.”
I felt Aunty Morenike’s body go rigid, and then she gathered me into her arms, resting my head against her chest. The pinching pain in my own chest made me gasp. “Aunty, nobody understands how much it hurts.”
She whispered the words in my hair. “Morayo, I do.”
After Morayo shares her shameful secret with Aunty Morenike, the two discover that they have a lot more in common. They are drawn even closer together by their shared pasts, and it appears that Morayo is ready to move forward with her life. Indeed, over the next few years, she blossoms.
The story follows Morayo into adulthood, through her years in college, and eventually into the professional world where she finds work with a local bank. But through it all, Morayo’s past lingers, and she often seems to be torn between looking forward and letting the past consume her. For this Aunty Morenike admonishes her:
“Morayo, also remember that we do not abandon the business of living life because of what people do to us…”
Littered with insightful African proverbs and traditional stories, this is a book that both celebrates the courage of women in Nigerian society, and tackles obstacles that society imposes on them. Kilanko exposes the biases in her society, the injustices that paint women as guilty even when they are clearly the victims, and above all, the silence that refuses to acknowledge what’s going on.
Powerful and vivid, Daughters Who Walk This Path speaks to the reality that many girls confront in contemporary Nigeria.