By Anote Ajeluorou
For many a woman in Africa’s strong patriarchal system, the lure of career to prove a point that women too have arrived and that they are a force to reckon with can be compelling. However, this can sometimes be at the expense of family, which becomes the inevitable price to pay for career ascendancy. More often than not, such price becomes too steep for even the most strong-willed but by the time realisation dawns, it would have been too late, leaving behind a trail of sadness and regrets at what might have been.
This is the tragic scenario in the novel of Ghanaian Ruby Yayra Goka’s In the Middle of Nowhere (Kwadwoan Publishing, Accra; 2011). The work is exhilarating in exploring the soured filial bond between mother and daughter. I happened upon the work by chance at the last Nigerian International Book Fair in Lagos. I had often wondered what level of publishing was going on in neighbouring West African countries.
Poor infrastructure in Africa’s publishing sector has for long made it difficult for hard copies of books to cross borders, especially since Heinemann stopped its pioneering African Writers Series (AWS), which Chinua Achebe edited. So, I happily bought a copy curious to feel Ghana’s fictive pulse. It turned out a rewarding experience, as Goka’s creative power in mapping fellow women’s psychological disposition, in exploring their inner struggles as they battle to come to terms with soured love, loneliness, rejection, regrets and resignation. It’s the height of man’s fickleness that finally leads to a triumph of the spirit over adversary.
Elaine is Catherine’s only daughter begat in loveless circumstances in the latter’s girlish love and marriage to Anthony Grant, who eventually chickens out of a marriage contracted without his parents’ consent. Elaine becomes a scar in Catherine’s life, but she manages to bring her up with her mother’s help at Elmina. But Catherine is a determined young woman; she dusts herself up from the debacle of a runaway husband. She applies herself to her career in law practice and soon rises through the ranks to the position of judge.
Elaine grows into a promising young girl with a bright future. But then another man, a wolf in sheep’s clothing ,comes into the picture. Uncle Ato is no brother of hers, but she has come to regard him as father figure since she was a child. He pays her way through college and university, even helping with a foreign education in the bargain. But Uncle Ato has been bidding his time; he pounces just when Elaine is ripe and rapes her. Elaine is forced to drop out of university to have the seed of his evil violation. Her daughter, Kuku becomes her only consolation.
Meanwhile, Elaine’s mother, Catherine, now a judge, is incensed; she would not be grandmother to a bastard, as it would mar her rising career. Without the slightest motherly feeling towards her own daughter, she drives Elaine out of her home to face the uncertain life of pregnancy from the vilest source. Elaine falls back on her grandmother at Elmina in whom she finds the motherly love Catherine denies her.
Elaine, however, soon has her baby, Kuku, who turns a precocious little one. She becomes Elaine’s life. But Elaine decides to leave Accra, a qualified dentist, as her boyfriend, too, turns against her and begins dating her close friend. She goes far into the countryside, where no one knows her story; she wants healing from her unknown, new location. But here she runs into another medical personnel, Farouk, a widower still mourning his late Cuban wife. A combination of events throws the two medical personnel together in Sandema, a remote northern part of Ghana.
But it’s a love fraught with landmines of sorts. Farouk’s wife’s loss is etched too deeply into his subconscious; he finds it hard to let go. Elaine is uncertain whether to let herself go just yet in her barren outpost after her frightening experience with the man she called Uncle. It is the most uneasy relationship two mature people can ever find themselves. But with news of Catherine’s terminal illness, things are about to change one way or the other. Elaine does not want to see her sick mother, who has achieved the height of her career, having become a chief judge but for whom her only daughter is a stranger!
Finally, grief brings Elaine and Farouk together at Elmina, with Farouk also learning to let go of his late wife, and learning to see Elaine in different light. But would they find love again?
Goka’s In the Middle of Nowhere is a remarkable work of fiction. It’s a precise portraiture of the needless soured relationship between mother and daughter. Catherine’s life is a fine portrait of the career woman who lost touch with reality. She pays dearly for it. Also, Uncle Ato’s rape of Elaine comes to fore when he is exposed for the villain that he is; it ruins his political ambition of being elected to high office.
Indeed, Goka is to be commended for her beautify work.