Esi decides to leave Oko because he is not supportive of her profession since she excels at her well-paid job and puts that before him and their marriage. She also resents Oko’s constant demand for another child when she thinks their daughter is enough and wants to concentrate on her profession. Oko on the other hand thinks Esi is selfish for putting her work before him and their only daughter, Ogyaanowa, and for refusing to have another child for him. The distance between the couple lengthens after six years of marriage. Oko feels emasculated by his profession as a teacher as compared to Esi’s prominent job as a data analyst with the government’s statistical bureau.

After the usual arguing one morning, Oko crosses the line.

… Oko flung the bedcloth away from him, sat up, pulled her down, and moved on her. Esi started to protest. But he went on doing what he had determined to do all morning. He squeezed her breast repeatedly, thrust his tongue into her mouth, forced her unwilling legs apart, entered her , plunging in and out of her, thrashing to the left, to the right, pounding and just pounding away. Then it was all over. Breathing like a marathon runner at the end of a particularly grueling race, he got off her, and fell heavily back on his side of the bed. He tried to draw the bedcloth to cover both of them again.

Esi lethargically sits in her office about half an hour later feeling unclean. As she thought about it…

It all came to her then. That what she had gone through with Oko was marital rape.

Her analysis of this disturbing phenomenon  leads to a rather puzzling epiphany. She could not think of any native African word or expression for marital rape.

‘And, dear lady colleague, how would you describe “marital rape” in Akan?’

‘Igbo?… Yoruba?’

‘Wolof?… or Temne?’

‘Kikuyu?… or Ki-Swahili?’

‘Chi-Shona?’

‘Zulu?… or Xhosa?’

Or…

Oko’s treachery is the coup de grâce that ends their marriage.

Esi’s best friend, Opokuya has a different marriage. Opokuya is a nurse and Kubi is a civil servant, but neither puts work before family.

Opokuya had decided she wanted four children and upon consulting with her husband Kubi, they had had all four.

To the contrary, Opokuya and Kubi settle their differences quietly. Kubi is sensitive to Opokuya’s moods and Opokuya respects Kubi’s position as the head of the family. Although she is not happy that Kubi monopolizes the only car they share, she does not press the issue unduly.

Ama Ata Aidoo speaks to the issue of societal discrimination against independent, single, professional women in Africa. She expounds on the age-old problem of such women being constantly misconstrued as wanting to be ‘men’ since they will not acquiesce to the expectations of some of their fellow women to heed the beck and call of the male society. This includes having a well-rounded body for bearing children.

This obsolete paradigm is well adhered to by Esi’s mother.

The poor woman shared the popularly held belief that a young woman who is too tall, too thin and has a flat tummy and a flat behind has a slim chance of bearing children. The longer she waits after puberty, the slimmer those chances get!

Esi is further perplexed by Nana, her grandmother,  as she advises Esi about love in marriage.

‘Love?… Love?… Love is not safe, my Lady Silk, love is dangerous. It is deceitfully sweet like the wine from a fresh palm tree at dawn. Love is fine for singing about and love songs are good to listen to, sometimes even to dance to. But when we need to count on human strength, and when we have to count pennies for food for our stomachs and clothes for our backs, love is nothing. Ah my lady, the last man any woman should think of marrying is the man she loves.’

A. A. Aidoo does well to compare two very different relationships – that of Esi and Oko’s with Opokuya’s marriage to Kubi.

Esi ends up falling for the suave Ali Kondey, who pursues her without feeling any remorse about neglecting Fusena, his wife. Esi has high hopes for this relationship because of Ali’s sensitivity and constant attention, but this turns out to be short-lived. The romance meanders to an unforeseen predicament.

Although Changes is another enlightening novel about the struggles of women living in male-dominated societies, I found it difficult to follow Aidoo’s narration of the story. Her frequent interjections with history, sociology, culture, et cetera interrupted the flow of the story. It took me longer to read Changes because I had to adjust to Aidoo’s unique style of writing since I was so used to other authors’ various styles of writing.

I am also at a loss as to why this novel is dubbed a love story. I am not sure which of the relationships in the book is the love story.

Nonetheless, the novel made me appreciate feminism and the need to pay particular attention to women’s global fight for equality. All in all, Changes is truly  an eye-opener to feminism.

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