As a gender rights advocate and young professional, Dear Alaere is a guide book I have fallen in love with. The pages are filled with relatable moments of office politics, sexual harassment, love, and a journey to self-identity, regardless of the challenges the world throws at you.
The book cover is a painting of a young woman whose eyes are filled with curiosity. Its title, Dear Alaere, propels me into its epistolary form of writing. The author attempts to present fiction as a real life diary written by the protagonist and with occasional entries from her friend, Anitorufa, while providing a narrative frame to reinforce its authenticity.
Narrated in the first person point of view, Dear Alaere touches on themes of negotiating between work and family spheres, infertility in marriage, religious fanaticism, among others. It opens with a diary entry and a typical love marriage between the protagonist Alaere Benson, a young career-oriented Ijaw woman and her husband, Adelaja.
With each diary entry as a chapter, the author slowly guides us through marriage, childlessness and in-law interference. “I choke on the word barrenness.” Alaere is stifled in her marriage as her mother-in-law’s obsession for children in their union leads to a strained relationship between the two. To ensure her son perpetuates his lineage, she arranges a 15-year-old bride for him.
Onagoruwa sets Dear Alaere in modern Lagos, in a time when poverty and moral decadence, mental depravity and clerical sexual abuse are prevalent. She renders a powerful portrait of this commercial hub of the nation and the challenges experienced living in the city. Through her realistic portrayal of Lagos living, you can vividly see the beggars on the streets, traffic vendors, and Lagos traffic management personnel. The satire between the Big Man and the bus driver in Lagos traffic is a “slice of life” of everyday people, a representation of the fact that life does not come with an insurance policy and not all “I am sorry” starter packs can fix relationships.
Other themes explored include sexual harassment, male chauvinism andoffice politics which women face in the workplace. Only a few stories have dared to share life stories of workplace discrimination suffered by women as Dear Alaere does. From Neurotone to Criole, Alaere constantly navigates the resistance she faces as she is perceived as not fitting for the traditional male standard of success; this, in turn, creates a barrier to career advancement and fulfilment. If you are still in doubt about women struggles in the workplace, this novel is for you.
The language is simple, with a blend of Nigerian Pidgin, Yoruba and English, among others. Like every first person narrative, the story seems inconclusive as readers are forced to see through the eye of the protagonist. The author seems not to be overtly feminist as she shrinks from addressing sensitive feminist topics such as sexual assault, domestic violence, child marriage, the value placed on female children in the society as well as the societal expectation of women in their marital roles even though they were highlighted and developed in her novel. She seems to leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.
I would highly recommend Dear Alaere by Eriye Onagoruwa as a must-read. Written intelligently and crafted with lots of sensitivity, the novel is a remarkable debut from a legal professional. It is extremely engaging, romantic, witty and humorous. I look forward to reading more books by the author. To crown it all, the book cover is a necessary accessory to your social media gallery.
**Adepeju Adenuga is a young writer interested in sharing her experiences and learning from those of others through books and other written mediums