Last fall, one of the books I was most looking forward to was Ties That Tether, the debut novel by Jane Igharo. So when it became one of the Book of the Month picks in October, I was thrilled. It’s taken me a few months to finally sit down and read it, but once I did, I flew through it. Ties That Tether is a wonderful intercultural romance, and I’m already excited to read Jane Igharo’s next novel.
Ties That Tether opens with Azere, a Nigerian immigrant who lives in Toronto, on a date with a man her mom picked out. It doesn’t go well, but after leaving him behind, Azere does end up finding a spark with someone else: a Spanish guy named Rafael. They hook up, but Azere doesn’t expect to see him again. Plus, she intends to eventually settle down with a Nigerian man, pleasing her mom and honoring the promise she made to her dad before he died.
Fast forward one month, though, and Rafael is suddenly the new hire at the company where Azere works. Things could get awkward, and despite their mutual attraction, Azere is afraid to be with him. It would be a huge complication, both for herself and for her family. But is love worth giving up for the sake of culture? Or is it possible to honor your culture even as you open your heart up to people outside of it? More than a simple romance, Ties That Tether is an intimate examination of identity, family, and the compromises we make for each other.
There is so much I love about Ties That Tether. Perhaps the most significant element of this novel is the concept of culture, and the internal struggle so many immigrants face when balancing your two homes. How can you stay true to your original home, your original culture, and the traditions that define your family when living in a new country? Conversely, how can you also fit into your new home, adopt some of its culture, and assimilate to some degree? How can you achieve a balance of both? Azere is originally from Nigeria, and her family — especially her mom — stresses the importance of not forgetting who you are and where you come from. But Azere has lived in Canada since she was 12, and has, naturally, adopted a lot of Canadian ways of thinking and behaving. This war between two cultures, two identities, is at the core of this novel.
But from there, Ties That Tether throws in additional elements. The love interest is Rafael, a white man whose parents are both originally from Spain. Not only is he not Nigerian, but he also brings in a third culture. How can these two combine their Canadian, Nigerian, and Spanish cultures into something that feels fair?
It’s wonderful to see a romance that is both intercultural and interracial. Admittedly, I haven’t read many romances yet, but this is the first love story I’ve encountered that examines these themes. For me, this added an extra layer of personal connection. My husband is from Peru and I’m American, though we first met in Spain (incidentally in Valencia, where Rafael’s family is from!). We’re intercultural and interracial, and I could identify with several interactions and conversations between Azere and Rafael.
Much of the struggle in Ties That Tether mainly comes from Azere’s side. She has her own personal turmoil she’s going through, but eventually, she’s willing to try a proper relationship with Rafael. But her mom is always fanning the flames, and she poses a major challenge for Azere. For much of the book, Azere’s mom was frustrating. She was not being her best self, and it was hard to accept the mistreatment she dished out to her first daughter. It may be a cultural difference, but to me it felt like emotional abuse and major manipulation. I had a hard time getting around that, even by the end of it. That’s a mother-daughter relationship that will need tons of work.
Beyond Azere’s cultural conflict, though, Rafael has his own backstory. We have to wait a while to get the whole picture, but it is tragic. It leads to him having serious communication problems — a trope I don’t normally like to see. In his case, it makes sense that he’d be sensitive about the subject, but moving that far ahead with his relationship with Azere and not saying anything? That was a mistake. But okay, I’ll let it slide this time.
In addition to romance and culture wars, can we just discuss how Azere is a career-oriented and successful woman? I appreciate how she shuts down the sexist man on her blind date at the beginning of the book. I also love that she does well in her job, including outshining Rafael in the same position. Seeing smart, ambitious women represented in fiction, including romance, is an upward trend I fully support.
One final side note that I want to bring up, for personal reasons, is my excitement at Rafael’s family being Valencian. I lived in Valencia, Spain for a year, and that city is near and dear to my heart. I haven’t read any books set in Valencia yet (though I do have one on my shelf, which I plan to get to next month), so I was thrilled to at least see it mentioned here. It made me like Rafael and his family that much more.
Ties That Tether is a profound, thought-provoking, sweet book about the importance of family, the power of love, and the best ways to honor all your cultural identities.
This is one of my favorite contemporary romances I’ve read, and I love how it weaves in so many important themes and questions. Ties That Tether is definitely a book you need to pick up.
I can’t wait to read more from Jane Igharo, and apparently, I won’t have to wait too long. Her second book, The Sweetest Remedy, comes out on September 21, 2021. This time, the story will take place in Nigeria. Stay tuned for my review of that as soon as it’s out!
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