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When a Nigerian woman falls for a man she knows will break her mother’s heart, she must choose between love and her family.
At twelve years old, Azere promised her dying father she would marry a Nigerian man and preserve her culture, even after immigrating to Canada. Her mother has been vigilant about helping—well forcing—her to stay within the Nigerian dating pool ever since. But when another match-made-by-mom goes wrong, Azere ends up at a bar, enjoying the company and later sharing the bed of Rafael Castellano, a man who is tall, handsome, and…white.
When their one-night stand unexpectedly evolves into something serious, Azere is caught between her feelings for Rafael and the compulsive need to please her mother. Soon, Azere can’t help wondering if loving Rafael makes her any less of a Nigerian. Can she be with him without compromising her identity? The answer will either cause Azere to be audacious and fight for her happiness or continue as the compliant daughter.
- Title: Ties that Tether
- Author: Jane Igharo
- Publisher: Berkely
- Genre: Own-voices, Romance, Adult Fiction, Contemporary
- Age Range: Adult
- Trigger warnings: Death (including mentions of a parental death), cancer, mentions of a car accident, surprise pregnancy, traumatic childbirth, loss of a child
All her life, Azere has known she must marry a Nigerian man in the hopes of persevering her culture. After her father’s passing, Azere’s family emigrates to Canada and is taken under her uncle’s wing. With the help of her mother, Azere fully intends on solely dating within the Edo community — something she promised her dying father when she was twelve. She patiently goes along with every date her mother sets her up on, regardless of compatibility, or how disinterested she is. After another date goes horribly wrong, Azere finds herself at a bar, where she catches the eye of Rafael Castellano: a man who is charming, captivating, and white. When their one-night stand turns into something more, Azere must decide between continuing to live the life that pleases her family, or her feelings for Rafael.
The opening line of Ties that Tether is “Culture is important. Preserving it, even more important”, which I think truly sets the tone of the entire book. How far would you go to preserve your culture? What would you give up to stay connected to your roots? And more so, how do you learn to stay connected to your roots while intertwining them with other roots and building your own home?
“My mother didn’t understand the struggle of trying to reconcile my heritage with my new environment at such a young age. She didn’t understand I had to survive middle school and high school, not as a Nigerian, but as a Canadian. To her, I compromised and lost parts of my identity. To myself, I made room in my life for two distinct worlds. I redefined myself – created a new identity. And my mother resents me for that.”
I found Ties that Tether to be a quick and easy read. At times, it felt like watching a rom com, and I found myself gasping and laughing along with Azere. While I don’t typically love “love at first sight” as a trope (I tend to find it underdeveloped), I loved how it played out in Ties that Tether, and the way we got to see their feelings develop past that first night. As a main character, Azere was really easy to root for. As a daughter of immigrants (and also an immigrant myself), I found myself empathizing for Azere and her experiences with acculturation. The struggle between wanting to please your parents who have sacrificed so much for you, and trying to figure out how to be your own person was all too relatable. Having to learn which parts of yourself to shed in certain settings, and when, was something heartbreaking to read as it reminded me of my own experiences. I could so easily picture 12-year-old Azere learning “What does it mean to be Nigerian? What does it mean to be Canadian? What does it mean to be Nigerian-Canadian?”, and trying to simply survive. And what I appreciated most, was that she was still grappling with that same question at 25 — a reminder that we’re never done learning and discovering ourselves and our identity.
Just like Azere, I have a major love for rom-coms, and loved every reference in Ties that Tether. In all honesty, Ties that Tether felt like a rom-com itself. It very much followed a rom-com storyline and pacing, to the point where parts of it felt a little predictable, but I was still incredibly charmed by it. While I’m sometimes turned away from books that feel too predictable, Ties that Tether was predictable in a way that felt natural. That being said, I do wish that Igharo had dug deeper into the story and into Azere’s journey of self-discovery. I held my breath when Azere learned how to stand up for herself, and told her family that they didn’t actually know her; just the version they wished to see.
Some other aspects of Ties that Tether that I adored were the underlying themes of fate (cue Taylor Swift’s invisible string), the strong women and female friendships, and the fierce family ties. Ties that Tether boasts a rich and complex cast of background characters, and I found myself wanting to know more about Azere’s family members, her coworkers, and her best friend. I’ve never met an immigrant family that isn’t filled with their own history and stories, and Azere’s family is no different.
As a love interest, I found Rafael to be a little too perfect. A little too charming, too pretty, and for that matter? A little unlikeable. I wish we’d gotten to know more about him, and more so, that his backstory was revealed earlier in the book. Miscommunication and dishonesty are two of my least favorite tropes. While I understand why it made sense for Rafael to hold off on disclosing his past until near the end, I still found myself a little fed up with him for doing so.
Igharo uses a lot of montages, and while those often work in movies, doesn’t always translate as well on paper. I often found myself wishing that there were less time-skips, and that we got to know more about how Azere was processing the moments and feelings in her life. By using so many time-skips, it felt like we missed out on the smaller details of Azere and Rafael’s relationship, and it also felt like we were simply being told what was happening, instead of being shown.
Overall, I would recommend Ties that Tether to anyone looking for an easy read, or any fans of rom-coms. A wonderful debut for Jane Igharo, and I’m incredibly excited to see what she writes next. I would also highly encourage you to seek out own-voices reviews, such as this one as I am not Nigerian.
About the Author
Jane Abieyuwa Igharo was born in Nigeria and immigrated to Canada at the age of twelve. She has a journalism degree from the University of Toronto and works as a communications specialist in Ontario, Canada. When she isn’t writing, she’s watching “Homecoming” for the hundredth time and trying to match Beyoncé’s vocals to no avail.
Headshot by: Borada Photography