Book Title: I Am Also A Woman
Author: Zeripah Amoni Phiri
Available in print & e-book
HELP-U-PUBLISH. I Am Also A Woman. Middelburg: 2020. ISBN 978-1-77626-078-2
Review by Constance van Niekerk
I Am Also A Woman is a book written by a woman residing in the South African province of Mpumalanga by the name, Zeripah Amoni Phiri. Zerie, as she is called by many of the characters in her book, was born in Zimbabwe and relocated to South Africa after a hellish ordeal with her husband, Elias. Zerie is a woman with a story that needs to be heard, I applaud her for sharing her journey. It takes courage to stand naked before the world.
When I read Zerie’s book, I felt that it deserves to be made into a movie. Hers is a story that is hardly ever spoken about, the story of the woman who needs the world to know that she is a woman. The book made me realise that having children is not what makes us women. A woman who can’t have children is still a woman, regardless of how the world may perceive her. No matter the reasons for her infertility, whether it is Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome or any other causes, a woman should never be judged according to her ability to make babies or lack thereof.
For the first time, I peeped into the world of a woman with MRHK Syndrome. A world I never knew existed, a world I never even thought of. Never, have I ever imagined the pain and agony of a childless woman. Through this book, a whole different world opened to me. It is a world marred with sadness and tears. How can there be joy in a marriage where a husband and wife cannot even be intimate? Not even out of choice but s&*x has become mission impossible between a married couple! Imagine that. No honeymoon phase for the two lovebirds who have just tied the knot… no conjugal rights for a hot-blooded young husband. Many times most women who do not have any reproductive challenges take for granted the things they’re able to do, unbeknownst to them, someone out there has to struggle, not only to conceive but just to make love to her own husband!
Allow me to repeat, this is a story not only worth reading but watching as well. The abuse she went through just because she could not have children was unbearable. Maybe, if more women heard this story, we won’t be too quick to abuse children, or perform abortions or simply misuse our reproductive organs or simply discriminate another woman just because she has no child.
On the front cover of the book, Ms Phiri says,
“I am also a woman… Womb or no womb, I am enough. I am wonderfully and fearfully made. Fertile or infertile I am also a woman. Infertility does not define you. You are much more than infertility. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am an aunt. I am a mother too… There is more to motherhood than simply having children.”
However, I fail to comprehend why this quote was not consistent. She starts off in the first person narrative, and then in the middle of the write-up, she switches to second person, only to revert to first person again. “Infertility does not define you. You are much more than infertility.” I find this change unnecessary. This could have been written as,
“I am also a woman… Womb or no womb, I am enough. I am wonderfully and fearfully made. Fertile or infertile I am also a woman. Infertility does not define me. I am much more than infertility. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am an aunt. I am a mother too… There is more to motherhood than simply giving birth.”
The punctuation on the text is also inconsistent, some sentences have full stops whereas some were just left hanging, “I am a daughter I am a sister I am an aunt I am a mother too…” cannot be a single sentence.
The book begins with a Prologue on page iii, and then on page ix is the Table of Contents. I find this very unconventional. After making enquiries from established publishers, this is what one Zimbabwean award-winning publisher informed me,
…it doesn’t make sense to have the Prologue before the Contents page, where it must also be shown together with the page on which it appears. The only things that can appear before the contents page are:
Publication information page
Dedication page (although some opt to have this after) etc
The Prologue is from page iii to vii, which I find too long and meandering. Something short and sweet would have sufficed.
I understand that this is Zerie’s first book, so she can be forgiven and that’s also the reason I shall only mention a few things. This is my own personal opinion as a literary critic and is nothing personal. I strongly believe that, it was the editor’s job to make sure that Zeripah’s debut book was well edited and flowed smoothly.
One other discrepancy worth mentioning:
Page 71, “A woman approached me as I was walking from work, expressing her shock…”
Page 74, “One day, some teenage boys came to my workplace and told me…”
Page 77, “I had to find something to do to keep myself busy and distracted from completely driving myself insane, or into a grief-induced catatonic state. Finding a job seemed to be the best idea. I decided to try my luck as a teacher. Getting a job was not easy…”
“I had to find something to do to keep myself busy” suggests that she was unemployed and stayed at home which is contradicting with the picture of the working woman portrayed on pages 71 and 74.
The entire book does not have a time frame. It is entirely up to the reader to attempt to place the setting at a particular time. The only starting point is the use of cell phones in Chapter 2 when Zeripah and Elias fall in love. According to Wikipedia, Econet was granted a telephony licence in 1998. This means that this could have happened any time after 1998 till date. That’s a very wide net to fish for a time frame. One Award-winning Zimbabwean author states,
Time is very important in a plot setting as it takes the reader back and allows the reader to visually align with a time frame to make the story relatable and realistic otherwise it might just be fiction. When writing true stories, it’s important to link the storyline with a particular timeframe.
There’s a sentence that says that Elias had made up his mind to leave, I took it as he had packed his bags and left the house, only to be surprised that he was still in the same house as Zerie.
There are many other things I can mention but, they do not take away the fact that this is a book worth reading, it’s a story worth hearing although I recommend that she runs a second edition with tighter editing for the satisfaction of armchair editors. I understand that the editor probably wanted to keep Zerie’s voice so as not to drown the story-teller but, even so, much more could have been done to ensure that the story is well-woven. The book could have been edited much better as it takes away the flow however, it does not beat the intention. I did not expect this from an editor whose books I have read and find quite interesting.