Born in London to a Nigerian princess, Precious Williams saw her life change radically in the first months. The tiny baby is shipped off (or basketted off) to a white elderly couple in West Sussex. As a reader, you can feel the confusion early on in the young subject – a choice between slavery (bought for £7.50 a week) and salvation (in being basketted off in a Moses-like saving from African influence and hardship/slavery).
Precious Anita’s life stands at that midway of confusion early on in the story. She starts her life and story at this midway in 1971. The reader stands bewildered at a Nigerian princess who drives a red convertible in the UK but doesn’t want to take care of her baby.
Despite the confusion, Precious is growing up as well as a child should. The only difference is, maybe the jumble of odd characters in her life. Her black mother who goes away and comes back briefly to assert how much influence she has (or must have) on the child’s personality. Mummy Elizabeth vanished several months ago (in 1976) and a couple of years later, she comes back to reclaim Precious Anita, but again, this reunion does not last long and Precious is back with Nanny.
Nanny seems to be the more consistent character in Precious’s life but the connection between them is questionable. Nanny’s love for Precious seemed to have its roots in a fictional character from Uncle Tom’s cabin. That’s like loving 13 year old boys because you feel a connection with Harry Potter or hating middle aged Igbo men because you don’t love Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart. Nanny’s always comparing me (Precious) to Topsy, that darling little coloured girl, a character in Nanny’s favourite-ever book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
And Nanny likes everything that Anita does that reminds Nanny of Topsy (page 141). As a little girl, Anita eventually begins to wonder if Lizzy has read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in hopes that Mummy Lizzy would see the same beauty that Nanny sees but Lizzy is only interested in letting Anita know that she is Igbo and a descendant of royalty, not like Topsy – a white man’s recreation of a black girl. It’s all a complex confusion of personal and racial identity.
Then there is the coming of Effua, which obviously brings in a new flavor to Anita’s jumble of personality. Effua’s mum teaches Anita how to do her hair. Effua tells Anita pointedly that she is black. And it is during Effy’s presence we first read of Anita consuming black literature and music (bought by Mick). It’s subtly implied that Effy’s confidence of blackness allowed Mick to freely relate with the kids’ (especially Anita’s) blackness, calling her little darkie fondly as a pet name. Agnes “Aggy the nigger lion” is also brought in to live with the Taylors. Even though Agnes despised it, she apparently had no choice. Agnes wasn’t just confident in her skin colour, she reveled in it and owned it with every good and evil that came with it. Racism in the book is critically discussed. It is frowned at in page 154 and laughed at in page 68. Either ways, we finally find an answer to one of the first questions we encounter in the book when Lizzy tells Anita, “…whatever you hear me say about Nanny, nobody can deny that she can talk properly. Nanny’s voice sounds just like the Queen’s . That’s why I chose her to mind you, listen now to how you speak just like her. If you were talking on the phone…the person at the other end would think you were white. I cannot even tell you how many doors that opens for you”. This is probably the most profound, race-emphasizing, colonial thought expressed in the book and it’s sadly true. Even in 2017, your accent can make or mar you. It tells us blatantly that the effects of European colonization of Africa and racial profiling will probably never die.
Gods and Theism
Humorously, we learn that the English god has a white skin as illustrated in Anita’s children’s bible – a white man in a white robe with a long white beard. And the Greek gods too are quite popular. Now we are curious about what “African” gods look like during Anita’s first visit to Africa (nobody talks much about African gods anyway) – and the writer obviously didn’t take the pains to find out which African nation’s gods she wanted to know about. Are the (African) gods coloured, Aunty? Is their skin brown like ours? “Gods don’t have skins”, says Aunty Nneka. It’s hilarious but it’s a summary of how we (Africans) relate to theism, religion and our own stories.
Nevertheless, one point that is noteworthy is that, the best-ever stories are told in Africa. That is on page 98 and it’s true.
Gender Relations and some other noteworthy themes
There is the rape scene which is strong enough in its influence. I’m particularly mentioning this scene because in a memoir like this, a subject like rape is an unrepentant statement of the writer’s courage and we can only restate it for the zillionth time that Rape is Bad. It’s evil and it’s wicked.
The book concludes on an appreciative note for motherhood after Precious has her own baby and begins to fall in love with the new beauty, attractiveness and energy she finds in having her own baby. This new found high leads to a flowering career as a writer and most prominently a new ability to choose her own personality after all the confusion. Overall, the book is a honest re-telling of the power to choose who or what we are, regardless of circumstance, whether racial, birth, social class or historical circumstance. You could be Precious or Topsy, if you choose.
Author: Precious Williams
Published by: Bloomsbury USA, New York. 2010.by