A young Nigerian woman navigates the rocky road to womanhood.
In the opening pages of “Daughters Who Walk This Path,” two sisters listen carefully to their father as he tells them a Nigerian folk tale. As every one of these folk tales has a moral, the younger sister asks what the moral of this particular story is. Their father responds, “The lesson is that if you don’t want everyone to know your secret, don’t share it with anyone.”
Secrets wind their way throughout Yejide Kilanko’s debut novel, pulling Morayo’s family members tightly together and then pushing them apart amid the backdrop of Nigeria, a country that is itself struggling with its own identity during the 25-year period of the book from 1982 to 2007.
Five-year-old Morayo is the proud older sister of newborn Eniayo, and despite the dire predictions that the albino baby would bring nothing but bad luck to their home, Morayo’s family enters a time of peace and prosperity as they settle into the new life of their larger family. Five years later, their family radically changes when they offer to take in a troubled teenage cousin, Bros T, who initially appears to simply need the discipline of an older man. As Bros T preys on Morayo’s changing body and innocent spirit, he rips apart their quiet family life and leaves it forever tainted.
Paralleling Morayo’s story is the story of Morenike, Morayo’s older aunt who suffered a similar attack by a trusted family friend and neighborhood leader when she was not much older than Morayo. This assault resulted in a son for Morenike and subsequently fueled her determination to carve out a life of independence for her new family. She chose education and advocating women’s rights over victimhood, setting a powerful example for her niece.
As she grows older, Morayo forges her own path and experiments with her sexuality as she attends the university. Under her aunt’s watchful gaze, Morayo comes full circle back to her childhood and rekindles a relationship with a boy she knew before her innocence was stolen away by Bros T. However, the past is never far behind, and Morayo must learn the difficult lesson of what secrets are best shared and with whom.
Kilanko, who was born in Nigeria and who currently lives and works in the United States, uses the characters of Morayo and Morenike to transcend geographical borders and create a stirring novel about the universal experience of a girl’s journey to womanhood, within the unique vision of her native country.
Meganne Fabrega is a freelance writer and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.