– SPOILER FREE REVIEW –
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Yetunde: An Ode to My Mother
Author: Segilola Salami
Genre: Short stories, Children’s
Release date: March 6th, 2016
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Death is wicked . . . Follow Yetunde as she narrates her mother’s ode to her grandmother. It is the Yoruba praise poetry for a mother known as Oriki Iya. This is a short story dedicated to past, present and future mothers. A perfect mother’s day present. The book is mostly in English and any Yoruba words are translated, so everyone can enjoy the book fully.
This is a sweet little story with a lot of heart perfect for young and older readers alike. We have an unusual and delightful nine-month-old narrator and her mother, who teach us in a simple but beautiful way about mothers’ strength, the loss of a loved one, cultural identity, and Yoruba folktale. A perfect read for a quiet morning or afternoon.
First of all, let’s talk about the plot. It’s very straightforward, as we find ourselves thrown in the middle of a normal day in the life of Yetunde in which her mother decides to tell her more about her culture through a Nigerian folktale. My only complaint about the plot is actually about the ending, which teases a new story out of the blue. I am interested in reading the continuation, but I didn’t like such a blunt introduction to it.
My favorite thing about the story were the main characters. Our first narrator is Yetunde. She’s a baby and, as such, she is just discovering the world, but her innocence makes her very wise. I loved hearing the story from her perspective. When I started reading I thought it would be condescending to have a baby as the narrator, as the story would be told too childishly for adult readers, but that’s not what happened at all. We learn to appreciate the story through her eyes because her mother treats her with a lot of respect and love.
“She just loves it when I give her a kiss, especially when she doesn’t even ask. I don’t do it very often though. I think it makes it even more special and precious when I do.”
Her mother is clever, patient and sweet. She wants Yetunde to learn about her culture, not only because she deems her heritage really important, but also because its connection to her own mother. Although I liked her and loved the tale she told Yetunde, I would have preferred to read the whole story through the baby’s perspective. With such an unusual and successful narrator, changing to the mother was not something I loved.
“I’m simply telling you this so you know about your heritage, Yetunde. Where you come from. I don’t necessarily want for you to become a worshiper when you grow up.”
For such a short story, it touches many important themes and handles them well. The most important one is clearly motherhood. We see through Yetunde’s eyes the admiration and love of a child towards their mother, and then we get to see it again in Yetunde’s mom towards her own mother. The recognition of women and mother’s strength is empowering and endearing, told with a simplicity that helps this story reach a younger audience, but with a lesson that’s deep enough for people of all ages to ponder about.
“No matter how strong a man
He was born by a woman
When you oppress a mother
You oppress your own mother
[…] Woe onto he who makes a mother cry
For her cry is the sound of the war-drum you struck […]”
The story also talks of grief and loss, topics that are hard to discuss but that are treated touchingly and with subtlety. Finally, the last theme I would like to mention is culture and identity. Yetunde’s mother tells her about the Yoruba culture and its deities though a beautiful tale and even a fun little reference to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I loved learning more about the Orishas and there were many beautiful passages that I adored that tell us how much women are valued in the Yoruba culture. Yetunde’s mother talks to her in English and Yoruba, intertwining both cultures through language to help Yetunde grow understanding her identity and which helped me get more immersed in the story.
Overall, this was a sweet and moving little story that I recommend to anyone who just wishes to relax and read on a quiet day, it will brighten it. Above, I’ve linked the book on Goodreads and Amazon because it’s free at the moment.
Do you like reading short stories? What other books have you read with unusual narrators?
UPDATE: A new cover for the story was revealed. It’s rather cute!