Based on the true stories of school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist organization based in Nigeria, this harrowing novel for adults takes readers into a diabolical “cradle of evil.” The captured girls are coerced to convert from Christianity to Islam, violated in unspeakable ways, forced to become “bush wives” for the militants, and often become pregnant.
In the beginning of her captivity, the novel’s narrator finds kinship with the other hostages. Eventually, circumstances cause her to feel deep, though undeserved, shame—shame that isolates her from the others and makes her wonder if she will ever know “the language of love” and find her way home. Still, the girl experiences occasional, small acts of kindness, giving her courage and a hint of dignity.
Soon a mother herself, the girl plans to escape. In the forest, carrying her child and running with a friend, she discovers another terror—the disorienting sameness of the trees and terrain in the prison of nature. But even there, the compassion of strangers makes survival possible.
When the girl finally returns home, she longs for safety and acceptance for herself and her child. Instead, she feels like a freak and discovers hatred in a new guise. She is stigmatized for being a “bush wife” and the mother of a child with the tainted blood of the enemy. Always, despite what seems to be the triumph of evil, the girl discovers hope, often through courageous pastors and nuns who put their lives on the line to fight for justice.
Author Edna O’Brien’s well-researched novel is an emotionally searing and difficult, yet rewarding read. It is peppered with biblical allusions, which penetrate the darkness with light so that, as the girl finally relates, “... it seemed as if the world was on the edge of a new creation.” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)