Ontario resident Yejide Kilanko’s first novel transports readers to her native Nigeria, telling a dark coming-of-age story that brings attention to the kind of violence many women suffer in silence. Daughters Who Walk this Path is narrated by Morayo, a young girl from an affluent family in the urban centre of Ibadan. The novel chronicles Morayo’s adolescence, university years, marriage, and eventual motherhood – all of which are coloured by her childhood experience of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her troubled cousin, Brother Tayo.
Morayo’s struggle with the emotional trauma, family tension, and secrecy surrounding sexual violence gains deeper resonance when she discovers that her aunt was similarly abused. Inspired by Kilanko’s personal experiences in Nigeria as well as her child protection and social services work in Canada, the text is graceful and unmistakably authentic in its portrayal of sensitive issues.
The novel gestures more broadly to corruption in Nigerian life in general, depicting manipulated elections and women who are beaten and abducted on the streets. One of Morayo’s most poignant realizations as she enters adulthood is that neither age nor education is sufficient to keep her safe.
There exists an abundance of historical fiction about Africa; Kilanko provides a rare look at contemporary life. Descriptions of the local environment, food, clothing, marriage rites, and family relationships offer a heightened sense of Nigerian culture, and the author’s interpolation of words and phrases from the West African Yoruba language adds to the feeling of immersion.
Marked by prose that is more utilitarian than literary, Daughters Who Walk this Path is a quick read driven by a rapidly evolving plot. The novel’s events, including several unlikely coincidences, sometimes seem contrived; there is a well-executed twist near the end, however, that brings Morayo unexpectedly back into contact with Brother Tayo. Kilanko adds depth here by blurring the line between good and evil: Morayo’s aggressor reappears as someone offering assistance, connections, and money.
Although shot through with rape, miscarriage, suicide, and other dark topics, the novel manages to strike an uplifting tone overall. Morayo’s personal journey allows her to overcome guilt, build self worth, and step into her future with the knowledge that happiness can bloom from despair.