Why Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia's Son Of The House is helping us cope with COVID

Let your mind travel to West Africa while your body shelters-in-place thanks to this Giller shortlisted book.

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe’s debut novel might be called Son Of The House, but don’t let that fool you: Beneath its male heir title and its tension-packed kidnapping plot line, the 268-page piece of crackling prose is a celebration of women and their boundless endurance and strength. “It was indirectly inspired by growing up around the women I describe in the book. More directly, the story is inspired by a story my mom told me about a young boy I grew up with. The travails of his mother, fighting for his custody, and failing, reminded me of women I had known growing up—some of them friends of our family,” the Halifax-based author—who also has a full-fledged career in law—tells The Coast, speaking by phone from her home country of Nigeria. “It made me want to capture that sense I had, even as a child, of the sadness of a grave, sometimes overpowering sense of injustice—and yet the seeming indomitability of their spirits, the seeming strength to continue, to persevere.”


Rare is the debut that cracks as much international success as

click to enlarge Onyemelukwe's debut novel made the Giller Prize shortlist, one of the country's biggest lit awards. - GILLER PRIZE
Giller Prize
Onyemelukwe's debut novel made the Giller Prize shortlist, one of the country's biggest lit awards.

Onyemelukwe has: From a shortlist spot for the Giller Prize (Canada’s biggest book award) to winner of the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Literature and the 2020 SprinNG Women Authors Prize, among other international accolades, it is a book that hits with the sharp impact of an ice pick—and belongs on best-of lists and bookshelves everywhere, if you ask us. The book unfurls over four decades of change in Nigeria, as two kidnapped women—one a housemaid who dreams of becoming a typist, one a privileged, educated woman who gets gold jewellery from besotted suitors—recount their disparate lives to one another as their fate hangs in the balance.


“I would say, Igboland, Enugu, where I grew up, is definitely a huge piece of the book, with its red earth, and its cloudiness and dry smell during the harmattan [a dry, dusty season experienced in West Africa]. I have lived in places outside of the places I describe for years—and there was more than a bit of nostalgia in thinking of these places as I worked on the book, especially the parts that were written in Halifax,” Onyemelukwe says. “As for time, I really wanted to capture these women in a time when there was a lot of possibilities, with [the economy] booming on oil—and yet still living and striving to thrive in a cultural context that didn’t always allow them to.”

About The Author

Morgan Mullin

Morgan is the Arts & Entertainment Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from what to see and do around Halifax to profiles of the city’s creative class to larger cultural pieces. She’s been with The Coast since 2016.

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