I went back and forth about whether I thought Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo was cliché or original. At the end of the day, I decided that it was ironically cliché and very original. I loved it.
Love or Family?
Ties That Tether is about a woman, Azere, devoted to her Nigerian family and the promise she made to her father on this deathbed: to marry a Nigerian man and always remember her culture. Suddenly, after a one-night stand, Azere finds herself in a position of choosing between her growing feelings for a White man, Raphael, and that devotion to her family. Can Azere love this man without losing her cultural identity or will she have to pick one over the other?
It’s not every day you get a romance novel explicitly centering on the challenges of a cross-cultural relationship. There are plenty romances out there about interracial couples, but you may get a blip about their differences, but many times it comes across as look-how-post-racial-our-society-is vibes. I love that two characters trying to reconcile their different cultural identities is the main source of conflict, none of that surface-level “I don’t want to like this person for XYZ shallow reason, so I have to hold back my feelings”.
I want more…
I love Jasmine Guillory novels and her interracial couples, but a serious dialogue about what it means to date someone of another race or ethnicity is seriously lacking. I am interested in seeing the characters navigate introducing their partner to their family; how they work through how the world perceives them being seen together and the assumptions that are made; what the discussions on reconciling their different identities into their identity as a couple. I guess those are the parts left behind in the quest for these books to be “more universal”. But Jasmine Guillory is a different conversation.
Back to raving about Ties That Tether.
At times, I had to tell my Western upbringing to chill out. I wanted to shout to Azere to just forget her family and follow her heart! Nigerian values are not a part of my culture. It isn’t my place to go against someone’s culture and project onto them what they should and shouldn’t do. I’m not even sure why I wanted to even say that to her. I, too, sometimes let my family’s expectation rule aspects of my life they shouldn’t.
One of my friends told me the other day to just move across the country for some space from my family. I looked at her like she had two heads (she actually looked like she had two heads because of the severe side-eye I was giving her).
More than love
I also really liked seeing into the journey of self-discovery Azere went through. She was trying to figure out how to be Canadian and Nigerian. And here comes Raphael in the mix, someone who could never “understand her better than anyone else”, yet they still found love. I hate that mentality in romance novels. No one will 100% understand all your different selves.
I enjoyed so much about The Ties That Tether. Igharo took all the romance clichés and flipped them into something wonderful. Read this book if you want a more nuanced conversation about love.