What would you have done if you lived in the land of the Igbos, long before contact with the Western world. A land where every one was bound to follow strong established rules. Decency and decorum was expected, as well as self-control. Any excessive or obsessive expression of one's feeling was totally unlooked-for. One day, you found yourself a widow, not once but twice. With time you got over it and fell in love again. However, you couldn't marry the man you loved because he had been betrothed to another woman when he was a child as custom required. Besides, even if you were reputed to be one of the best women in the village, his parents thought you were so worn-out to be considered as his "first" wife. In addition, they believed their son deserved an untouched young woman. Finally, he married a beautiful young woman, immediately, after which he was unhappy and miserable to the extent he ran mad and you were the only one who could bring him back to well being. His parents came back to you - this time, after they had eaten their humble pie. They pleaded earnestly, you gave heed and ignored what happened in the past.
Eventually, they accepted you as their in-law to be, since you saved their son's life. Nonetheless, shortly, before the marriage ceremony took place, it was prophesied that this man you so much cherished was going to loose his life in a mysterious way if he married you. First of all, the sea lord must be appeased.
This was the life of Ihuoma in Eastern part of Nigeria long before the Europeans arrived. The Concubine, however, is not only about Ihuoma, it is also about Adaku, Wigwe, Nnadi, Ekwueme, Wagbara, Anyika and the whole village of Omokachi.
The characters in this novel are lifelike; hence, I felt I have met them not read them. Elechi Amadi gave an excellent description of life in the village then. Yet, I was somewhat undecided about rating it five or four stars, at last four because the novel evolved in a slow manner. I guess Amadi was just respecting the rhythm of life in those days and I am glad he took that into consideration. Regardless, at some point I felt long-drawn-out. At the same time, I have to admit that his writing style is superb and the story line was pleasing, some times humorous but with a grievous ending.
This novel was used as WAEC (West African Examination Council) exam text for 30 years. It was actually the reason a lot of high school students read it back then in Nigeria.
The Concubine is Elechi Amadi's first novel I have read so far, a master piece, I believe his Magnum opus as well. An African classic I wholly recommend to all and sundry.