As in the Regency-era England of Jane Austen’s novels, women in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria are on the cusp of radical social changes, as globalized development pulls against conservative Islamic traditions. To help make sense of changing times, many are turning to romance novels, or littattafan soyayya (literally, “books of love”). The cheap and locally produced paperbacks, sold from tiny storefronts throughout Kano’s street markets, are a popular diversion for women of all classes and education levels.
Leading this trend is Farida Ado, 32, the Hausa-language author of six books featuring forbidden romance, polygamy and inter-generational drama. “Women turn to romance novels to figure out how to live their own lives,” she says.
More chaste Mills & Boon than Fifty Shades, Ado’s novels reflect the daily concerns and preoccupations of her contemporaries: how to get along with the multiple step-siblings from your father’s several wives; how to deal with a new, younger wife in your home; how to maintain family harmony while striving for independence; and what to do (or not do) about a husband’s infidelity. The novels are prescriptive on purpose, says Ado. “Every positive example [the reader] gets on how to solve her problems is a plus to society.”
Her recent series, The Block of Ashes, was inspired by a neighbor who went to a Nigerian juju priest hoping dark magic could help with her marital problems, to devastating results. “I try to reflect the reality of society in my stories,” she says. “These juju doctors had become a menace in many homes.”
Ado’s books, printed locally on cheap pulp, are not likely to be translated into English anytime soon. But to Nigeria’s Hausa-speaking population of 30 million, Kano’s Jane Austen has many more stories to tell.