Sometimes, if you think what you’re going through sucks, reading can help. It can pick you up, remind you of happier times and take you to a better world. Or, it can remind you that really, your problems are literally miniscule. In the grand scheme of things, your problems don’t matter and you’re going to be OK. The book I read in April offered this exact reality check.
Girl by Edna O’Brien is all about one of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. So, yeah. It tells the story of Maryam and of the horrific things that happen to her first at the hands of her kidnappers, then at the mercy of nature, then by her own family and society.
Given that it’s what’s happened to thousands of girls, this novel is honestly harrowing. It covers kidnap, child rape, FGM, forced marriage, a stoning ceremony… the list goes on. It’s brutal. And that’s just in the first 50 pages.
But, despite the horrors accounted on pretty much every page of this novel, it’s somehow magical at the same time. It’s a beautifully written book, that reads almost like a dream sequence… maybe a nightmare? And it’s an empowering and inspiring account of the strength of women and of mothers in the face of unimaginable danger and pain.
But the real magic lies in the fact that O’Brien has given a voice to one of recent history’s most marginalised groups of people, a voice that hasn’t been heard in much literature of the last decade. The lives of these women and girls, mental, emotional and physical, has literally been turned upside down by the traumas they faced in the Boko Haram compounds and in the ostracization they continue to face from their societies and families in the outside world. By the end of the novel, it seems that O’Brien is calling to us to recognise and acknowledge our own privileged lives and wake us up to the plight of others. Those who have lived and continue to live through such atrocities, even as life goes on around us.
In short, guys, lockdown is really not that bad.