One of Elite Daily’s Books Featuring Interracial Relationships You Should Read In 2020
One of Marie Claire’s 2020 Books You Should Add to Your Reading List
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.
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Culture is important. Preserving it, even more important. It’s the reason I’ve always abided by one simple dating rule.
Tonight, I’ve broken that rule.
It all started when he kissed me, when his silken lips and skilled tongue moved against mine with a perfect and sensational mixture of tenderness and force. It was the kind of kiss that rid me of all my wits and made me act spontaneous and reckless for the first time in my life.
That kiss brought me here—to his hotel room.
We stagger through the door. Our bodies, entangled, navigate blindly, attempting to reach the bed. He slides a hand into my blouse and, in one swift movement, unhooks my bra.
This wasn’t where I envisioned my night going. A few hours ago, I was having dinner at Louix Louis, located on the thirty-first floor of the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Toronto. My date was not the man currently undressing me, but Richard Amowie, the engineer my mother referred to as “husband material.” Like me, he was Nigerian—of Edo descent. He was also a Christian and, from the series of questions he had been asking, the kind of man who believed a woman’s single purpose was to breed babies and cater to her husband. Was I surprised by his archaic mentality? Not at all. My mother’s matches usually have this trait in common. As well as being Edo—the most important trait of all.
“What do you do for fun?” he asked, slicing through a well-done steak. “Do you like to cook? Are you a good cook? Do you know how to make Edo food?”
Despite the glamorous restaurant with a glistening coppery interior, I was not on a date. I was being interviewed for the position of dutiful Edo wife by a man who couldn’t chew with his mouth closed. The sight of his jagged teeth breaking apart the wine-glazed beef made nausea tickle my throat. My appetite morphed into disgust, and I had no desire to finish the walnut-crusted salmon on my plate. I looked through the large window, at the stunning view of downtown Toronto—clusters of high-rises invading the sky with height, the sight of Lake Ontario spread out in a vast expanse of shimmer and blue, and the CN Tower posing majestically as the city’s greatest beacon.
“Well?” Richard asked, one eyebrow raised. “Do you? Do you cook?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“Edo food?” This specification was important to him.
“Yes. I learned when I was a kid—back in Nigeria.”
His brow dropped, defusing the tension on his massive forehead. “Good. Very good.” His lips stretched and widened, hitting his cheekbones and exposing his teeth.
It was official. I had advanced to the next round.
“Want to know my favorite?” he asked. “Black soup with fresh catfish. I love it.”
“Yeah. So did my father.”
“He died, right? When you were back in Nigeria.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Before my family and I moved to Canada. I was twelve at the time.”
“Oh.” He chewed his dinner with the temperament of a ravenous goat, not taking a moment to offer a gesture of condolence. “But you’re twenty-five now. So, it was a long time ago.” He made the statement with a casual ease as if referring to a childhood pet rather than my father, a man who died too young and agonized on a hospital bed before he did. “So. About your job,” he continued. “What is it you do again?”
“I’m a creative director at an advertising agency.” At that moment, curious about his follow-up question, I pulled a lock of my box braid behind my ear and leaned into the table.
“Impressive. But you would quit once you had a family to take care of, right?”
I chuckled, amused and stunned by his idiocy. “No. I absolutely would not quit.”
His gaze was stern and steady on me, an intimidation tactic I fought by conveying the same look, but with a hint of disdain to go with it. It occurred to me then that if looks could seal fates, he would have ignited to cinders.
“Well.” He blinked rapidly, his glare quivering under the strain of mine. “You’re stubborn.” He knifed the steak again. “Your mother didn’t mention that. Personally, I prefer my women to be a lot more . . .” He pondered, eyes narrowed and darting as if considering some vast complexity, and then his stare stilled on me, and he said: “Submissive.”
At the utterance of that word, rage seethed inside me. “And I prefer that my men weren’t chauvinistic pricks with the brain and table manners of a caveman!”
It was a statement loud enough to capture the attention of the diners at the nearby tables. Inquisitive eyes shifted between me and Richard, inspecting, speculating, and then concluding.
The date or interview was officially over. I stood and grabbed my trench coat. “It’s obvious we aren’t a good match.”
“Yes,” he said. “Very obvious.” Because of the attention he had gained, he was trying to portray a composed facade, but his straight lips kept reverting to a tight frown. His fingers rolled into fists that trembled, the guise of the perfect husband shedding to reveal his true nature.
“Goodbye, Richard.” I left him alone at the table with strangers eyeballing him and offering silent and likely accurate judgment.
It was past eight at the time, and I ended up in the hotel lobby, heading for the lounge instead of the exit. A drink made by a professional seemed more enticing than anything I could mix at home.
The lounge had a more relaxed vibe than the restaurant; the beige-and-gray palette, cushioned seats, and electric fireplace created a modern and cozy ambiance. I ordered a whiskey sour and sipped with relief. The alcohol unwound the tension that had accumulated throughout the night. My back slacked, and I leaned into the comfortable chair, but the thought of my mother made my spine spike up straight again. She would blame me for how the date ended. At the realization, I emptied the sweet cocktail in my mouth. The flood of alcohol warmed my insides and made my eyes close.
I racked my mind for a solution—a way to either survive or avoid my mother’s wrath. I considered multiple possibilities, including hopping on a train to Montreal. While still contemplating, a deep voice broke through my thoughts. I opened my eyes, turned to the seat next to me, and saw the man who had spoken. He was looking at me, waiting for my response, but I had no clue what he had asked.
“Excuse me?” I said. “Did you say something?”
“Yeah. I was just wondering if you were okay.” He smiled, and a deep blush snuck up his cheeks, staining his white skin. “You downed that drink pretty fast. And for a minute, it looked like you were sleeping . . . at a bar.”
“What makes you think I wasn’t meditating?”
“At a bar?”
“Well, if that was the case, I apologize for interrupting your meditation.”
“Apology accepted.” I turned to my empty glass, and he turned to what looked like scotch. I watched him from the corner of my eye, sipping his drink and working his thumb against his phone. “I wasn’t meditating,” I confessed, no longer able to ignore the guilt of lying.
“Oh.” He switched his attention to me. “Then you lied. And accepted my apology.”
“Yeah.” I smiled, a playfulness suddenly bubbling inside me. “I could give it back if you want.”
“No.” His blue eyes dashed across my face, a quick examination. “Keep it. On behalf of whoever upset you tonight, I apologize.”
“And how are you so sure someone upset me?”
“I just am.” He lifted the tumbler to his lips and drank. “Am I wrong?”
I shook my head.
“Who upset you?”
“Um . . .” The question was intrusive. I didn’t owe the stranger an answer, but somehow, he put me at ease. “My date.”
“And what did he do?”
Another intrusive question I could have dismissed, and yet, my loose lips offered the answer without restraint. “He was a sexist ass.”
“Those still exist?”
“Yep. And my mother knows exactly where to find them.”
“Your mom set you up?” Amusement curved his flushed lips, which stood out against his pale complexion.
“Yeah. It’s kinda her thing. This one didn’t work, so she’ll probably arrange another for next week and another after that if necessary.”
“Sounds like torture. I think that warrants a second drink.” He waved the bartender over, and I ordered another whiskey sour. He insisted on paying, and I objected a few times before giving in.
He was a gentleman, and as I recall, a well-dressed one, sporting a navy-blue blazer over a white button-down and black dress pants. His hair had a perfect side part that separated the dark, wavy strands into precise proportions. The strong angles that structured his square-shaped face were made soft by the calm blue of his eyes and the gentle fullness of his lips. He had an elegance about him that was neither intimidating nor arrogant.
“I’m Rafael,” he said, extending a hand.
“Nice to meet you, Rafael.” I gripped his hand, and he gripped mine. It was a standard gesture—simple, nothing intimate or remotely profound—and yet, it stirred a reaction from both of us. His jaw tightened as if he were fighting some frustration, and my heart raced, triggered by an indefinable thrill. “I’m Azere.” The motion to separate our hands was reluctant.
“Azere,” he said, uncertain, my name a foreign flavor he had yet to acquire a taste for.
“It’s A-ze-re,” I repeated, enunciating and emphasizing the distinct Nigerian rhythm paired with the name.
He gave it another attempt, and although the pronunciation improved, his Western intonation remained inflexible. “It’s a beautiful name.”
“Thank you,” I said. “So. You know my deal. What’s yours? What are you doing here, drinking at a bar alone? Did you have a crappy date too?”
“Actually, I’m staying in the hotel. I came in from New York for an interview.”
“And how did it go?” I watched his lips for the answer.
“Well, I hope it went well. If it did, then I’ll be moving back to Toronto. My family lives here. I used to too before I moved to New York.”
“And you’re moving back because you miss your family or because—”
“Because New York has too many memories,” he said, his stare far off.
“Memories of what?”
He opened his mouth to answer but then sealed it. Or memories of who? I wanted to ask, hoping he was as liberal with information as I had been, but he changed the subject. The conversation quickly transitioned to less personal topics. We moved to a settee adjacent to the fireplace. The mood felt light and the conversation effortless. I was utterly fixated on him, paying no attention to the thinning crowd or midnight’s quick approach, only aware that I had been touching him as we spoke, my hand falling on his arm and his shoulder and his leg. Each touch sent a zing through me that rattled my core. It was a warning, telling me I had encountered something dangerous and had to proceed with caution. And so, I did.
Moving forward, I forced my hands to stay at my sides, to twirl a lock of my braid, to tug on the hem of my short skirt. Although that was a mistake as it drew attention to the faux leather that clung to the curve of my hips and revealed my chestnut-brown skin. Rafael’s gaze instantly dropped to my thighs. When he looked up again, his stare was deep and prolonged. My heart raced.
“We’re closing up.” The bartender’s voice boomed through the lounge, capturing the attention of the only remaining people—Rafael and me.
We stood in sync. He held my coat as I slid an arm through each sleeve. When I faced him, our eyes connected. For seconds, verging on a minute, I stared at him, inspecting his eyes. They weren’t simply blue, but an ever-evolving tide of blues—sapphire, azure, violet, and periwinkle—all intricately woven together, circling dilated pupils.
It was during this moment, while I was studying his eyes, that it happened. He kissed me. It was unexpected. Yet, somehow, I had been waiting for it since he offered an apology for the mistakes of someone else.
Sweet and forbidden—that’s how I remember it tasting. It was everything I wanted and couldn’t have. There was a rule I had to obey, and it was simple: never get romantically involved with a man who isn’t Edo.
The rule rang in my head. Though, as his lips worked against mine, I felt the rise of defiance. For the first time in my life, my heart was putting up a fight against my mind. Intense sentiments contended with forced reason, and I knew I wanted him. There was no denying it, so I clung to him and kissed him fiercely.
Again, the bartender urged us to leave. We ignored him and pressed our bodies tightly together, the need to feel skin intensifying with each stroke of our tongues and exchange of our breaths.
“Seriously, guys!” He stood in front of us. “It’s past midnight. We’re closed.”
Rafael initiated our separation; I didn’t have the willpower to.
“Sorry about that,” he said to the bartender, whose face had turned red with irritation. “We’ll go.” But he didn’t make a move. His focus was strictly on me. His lingering stare implied he wanted more—so much more than the feel of my lips.
“Yeah. Whatever. Why don’t you guys take this to one of the many rooms in this place?”
The suggestion was the push we both needed to take things further. Rafael grasped my hand and squeezed it, a silent request I responded to by bobbing my head. He led the way, and I followed, each step rushed until we finally reached seclusion.
Now, in his hotel room, rumpled sheets snake through our limbs and conjoin our naked bodies. His breath is warm and feathery against my skin, like a wisp of summer air. Sex with a stranger. It’s a new occurrence for me, something I never thought I could do. Somehow, it isn’t what I expected. He isn’t indirectly asking me to leave with excuses of having to get up early in the morning. He’s holding me—my back to his chest—and pressing kisses along the curve of my neck.
“You’re beautiful, Azere.”
Azere. He hasn’t mastered the Nigerian rhythm paired with my name. Though, the way his Western intonation caresses each syllable creates a new rhythm that’s just as lovely.
“It’s late, Rafael. Maybe I should go.”
“Stay,” he says. “I want you to stay.”
“Okay.” I twist to look at him and trace his handsome features with my fingertip. “Sure. I’ll stay.” Because I want to more than anything else.
“Good.” He smiles, wide and genuine. “You know, I turn thirty today.”
“Well, happy birthday, Rafael.”
“Thank you.” He brings his lips to mine and takes his time exploring my mouth. “I swear, Azere, I could kiss you forever.”
“Well, maybe not forever. Just for tonight.”
Because tonight, for one night only, I am not the obedient daughter of a conservative woman who is adamant on preserving her Nigerian heritage. Nor am I the daughter of a patriotic man who feared his family’s departure to a foreign country more than the cancer that was killing him.
Reading Group Guide
TIES THAT TETHER by Jane Igharo
1. Azere describes her Canadian citizenship as a titlethat is both empowering and demanding because itrequires her to give up part of her Nigerian cultureso she can fit into her Canadian setting. Do youthink many immigrants believe their citizenship isboth empowering and demanding? Why or why not?
2. What do you think of the promise Azere made to herfather? How do you think the promise constructedher perception of what a Nigerian woman should be?
3. When Azere is around her family, she doesn’t feel thepressure of being wedged between two worlds.According to her, she isn’t Nigerian Canadian, butjust Nigerian. Do you think some immigrants oftenhave two sides to them—onethey present to theworld and one they reserve for the comfort of family? Why do you think that is?
4. Both Azere and Rafael experienced the death of loved ones. How do you think their losses impacted the development of their relationship and how they interacted with each other?
5. Azere’s mother was often harsh. Knowing her actions were provoked by fear— fear that her children would lose their culture— do you think they were justified? Why do you think this?
6. What role do you think Azere’s family and friends played in her growth? Who do you think was the most influential character in her development and why?
7. Azere constantly compares her experiences to romantic movies. What was your favorite movie reference and why?
8. In the novel, Azere’s mother asks: How much more of yourself, of your culture will you lose to accommodate him in your life? Do you think people who marry outside of their ethnicity have to give up part of their culture in order to make their relationship work? Why or why not?
9. Azere’s mom and Rafael’s parents are immigrants. How do they approach preserving their cultures with their children? How do their methods differ?