Title: Beyond the Trial
Author: Dr. Chigozie Anuli Mbadugha
Genre: Fiction
Review by: Kate Ekanem

Beyond the Trial is a collection of three short fictions. The three stories follow the lives of three African women who faced various challenges but were determined to excel.

The first story ‘Erased Reproach’ held me in suspense. I was terribly disturbed when a young school girl – Funke Ojo – was influenced by her peer group. Heeding their advice, she went into a relationship with a boy in her school. Ignorance blended with innocence led to an unwanted pregnancy. She was advised by her lover to abort it. Due to her fear of complications and death, she decided to keep the child. In this particular story, the constant mistakes and difficulties confronted by the girl child were manifested. I shed tears when Funke regretfully realized her mistakes; I felt her pains and confusion when her first suitor became her cousin’s husband because of her predicament. This particular part of the plot sparked anger in me because a man can decide to pick a wife from his ex-girlfriend’s family and society sees nothing wrong with it.

Above all, I was amazed by the strength of character Funke displayed. I was inspired by her determination to further her education; her approach to single parenthood; and her courage to raise her intelligent son, despite her lacking a man’s support. I loved her good-will and the willingness to give another man a chance despite the past. The fact that she later picked her name up from the mud society had reduced it to and pasted it on a platter of gold excited me. Frank is a character I truly admire; he does things with such uniqueness that qualified him as a suitable husband for Funke. I appreciated his sincerity and kindness.

The second story ‘Rude awakening’ drew my memory to some African cultural practices that reinforce harmful gender roles. In some parts of Southern Nigeria, when a man dies, his family takes over his property and leaves nothing for his wife and children to live on. It also highlighted the hardship and poverty faced by many widows because of their late husband’s refusal for them to work. In this story, I felt myself standing beside the protagonist Nkechi Emecheta in that very unbearable moment when the news of her husband’s death was broken to her. I felt her in-depth sadness and loss of hope, and when she lay on the hospital bed in coma, I was held in suspense; I thought she had given up on life.

I had to read this story over and over again. Nkechi’s plight had an intense effect on me. I wondered where she would start from since she was not working, but the support and advice she received from her friend Uzoma provided some succour for her. The strength and courage she exhibited in taking care of her children’s upkeep and their education, even after her brother in-law had taken all that was theirs, inspired me. She prodded on, and after some years, luck shone on her when her late husband’s company decided to compensate her. I found the bond and unity between Nkechi and her mother-in-law amazing. Whereas some mothers-in-law are a real thorn in the flesh, Nkechi and her mother in law shared a very deep bond. This story highlights the unity and love shared by these two women who were helpless in the situation they found themselves. Her mother-in-law refused to join the male family members to castigate her; Nkechi’s love for her became unshakable, and she became Nkechi’s mentor. Mama was a woman, who lived an exemplary life even till death, and though she died too soon, this leaves me in complete dismay. I could feel her good deeds in the community women Nkechi inspired on the day of her burial.

Rude awakening also describes true friendship. Uzoma stood by Nkechi during her trying dark days and was there till the darkness faded. This story screams for the advocacy of justice and recognition of women, and it reminds us of the devotion and commitment of past women activists whose efforts and contributions to our nation had gone unnoticed and unappreciated.

And the last story, ‘Shadows from the Past’ detailed the consequences of domestic violence. A day did not pass without Ada and her sibling’s recollection of their late father’s violence and infidelity. It haunted the three of them, almost affecting their present lives. Ada’s younger brother who witnessed more of this violence, eventually got married and in an effort to avoid being like his late father, he exhibited weakness which resulted in his wife taking advantage of him, and things went really bad. Ada’s younger sister was also affected by the past. She refused to show her husband love because of the fear of being treated badly like their mother was. Their mother had loved and cared for their father with her whole heart, but that never stopped him from beating her at every slight opportunity. Though they were fully grown, the past still hovered, making life extremely difficult for them. Ada’s visit to Nigeria not only revealed an old family secret, but it also helped her siblings rediscover their lives, with a determination to confront their past and move on with life.

These stories were well researched, and I really appreciate the author for finding time to take a walk into these three women’s lives. The characters were strong and though confronted by different but oppressing circumstances, they were determined and hopeful for the future.

Beyond the Trial is an emotional, inspiring and above all, very educative book. It will remain relevant until the end of time. I recommend this book to everyone, mostly all women who have lost hope in their struggle for survival and victory. I totally enjoyed reading it.

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