On the night of 15 April 2014, approximately 276 female students were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, by Islamist terrorist group-Boko Haram. At the time, this caused a global uproar. Today, the world seems to have forgotten about the events and of the girls that still remain in captivity. Edna O’Brien intends to remind the world of them in her recent and most powerful book titled Girl.
“I was a girl once, but not anymore”, begins Edna O’Brien’s Girl. It is a tale of a girl, taken from home, away from all that she knows, and made to live out her life in a terrorist camp. Girl is based on the Chibok girl kidnappings that took place in South Africa in 2014. The author’s inspiration came from an article about a girl who had escaped from the camp and was found wandering the jungle on her own, with a baby.
It follows Maryam, though her name is rarely used in the book, as she is kidnapped, raped multiple times, and wed to a soldier. Maryam bears a child, but on the death of her husband, she decides to escape. Of the kidnappings Edna says, “It is a painful story, a story people would prefer to forget”. But she intends to not let anyone forget, and that’s exactly what Girl accomplishes.
Unlike the popular dystopian novels of today, “Girl” transports the reader not to an alternate world, but to the world most of us are disconnected to, but which, nevertheless, exists in our reality. The narrator makes no concessions for the reader, doesn’t try to shield their sensibilities, rather each brutal scene is painted with excruciating detail and clarity. When she describes the stoning of a woman in the camp, she does so in such a way that makes you feel like you’re there, witnessing the very first stoning of your life.
Respite does not come to the reader in forms of hope. “An aide kept reminding me to smile, so I smiled. She had also briefed me on what to say and what to withhold. People did not wish to hear gruesome stories. ‘nothing negative… nothing negative’, she kept whispering in my ear.” is perhaps the most heart-breaking scene in the novel. After escaping, she becomes a mere prop, first to be shown off, then neglected. People don’t wish to know of her suffering, only to pat themselves on the back for “rescuing” her and to tsk-tsk at her sorrow.
She escapes from one prison, only to fall into another. Upon returning home, she finds that her father and brother are dead, that she’s forgotten, an inconvenience to her mother and her new husband, someone to make space for in their new lives. Here, she is not a victim, but an unmarried mother, a source of shame. She’s not welcome, her youth is not mourned, her courage not celebrated. Instead her baby is taken away from her and she imprisoned once more. Maryam’s language starts falling apart now, making the reader dazed and confused, exactly how she must’ve felt in that moment. It is this betrayal by her own family that breaks her.
O’Brien’s earlier works have featured the Irish countryside, love and a sweet lyricism, but she had to shed all of that for this novel. Though the novel ends on a good note, the author makes it clear that it not a happy ending because girls like Maryam are not afforded the luxury of a happy ending. Her name is only mentioned a few times in the book because she is not a girl, she’s Girl, she’s every girl and she could’ve been any girl.
The book succeeds at telling the story of the kidnapped girls in a more powerful and impactful way than the media ever could. Its short but it will take more than a few days for you to read it, and even more days to fully process what you’ve read.
Nidhi is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.