Buchi Emecheta was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1944. Her father, a railroad worker, died when she was young, but she managed to continue her education at the Methodist Girls High School in Lagos. When she was 16, she married a student named Sylvester Onwordi, and moved to London with him. The couple had five children together before she left him in 1966. In 1970, she enrolled at the University of London, where she received an honors degree in sociology in 1974.
She began writing after her marriage ended. Most of her fiction is autobiographical (The Rape of Shavi (1983) being the most notable exception). Her first book, In the Ditch (1972), and her second, Second-Class Citizen (1974) describe the life of Adah, a woman from Nigeria who has emigrated to England with her student husband, Francis. Francis is a dreadful husband who is lazy and selfish, and considerably less intelligent than the woman he mistreats. She struggles in her marriage, both financially and sexually, and gains the will to leave her husband only after he burns the manuscript she has been writing. After she leaves him, she discovers the depth of her own intelligence and character, and begins to climb out of the &quote;ditch&quote; she had been confined to.
Emecheta's most critically acclaimed work is remarkably different from her earlier work. The Rape of Shavi (1983) is a &quote;philosophical novel&quote; about the encounter between Africa and the West. In it, the residents of Shavi, a fictional African country, are visited by a group of whites who survive a plane crash. The passengers were fleeing what they believed was an imminent nuclear holocaust. When they arrive in Shavi, they discover a world which is undisturbed by external political disputes or Western influence. Initially, the Shavians are not convinced that these crash victims are human. However, they give the refugees food, shelter and medical attention. Eventually, most of the new arrivals gain respect for their hosts. Unfortunately, things take a bad turn when one of the Europeans rapes Ayoko, a girl who is betrothed to the king, and gives her syphilis. Later, one of the Shavians named Asogba goes to Europe with the whites after they repair their plane. He returns power-hungry and intent on conquering nearby tribes using technology he acquired while abroad. Eventually, he marries Ayoko, who unknowingly gives him syphilis. He passes it on to his other wives, and dies childless. Shavi is initially devastated by this encounter, but its residents ultimately come away from it with an ability to understand the implications of westernization and technological advances.
Emecheta's most recent book Gwendolen (1989) describes the life of a young West Indian girl who emigrates to London with her family. It is thematically similar to her earlier novels. Some readers apparently had hoped that The Rape of Shavi had signaled a new direction in her writing, and greeted this novel with little enthusiasm.




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