Monday, August 31, 2020

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

I want to talk to you today about a truly extraordinary debut novel by a Nigerian author. The title of the book is, The Girl With the Louding Voice and the name of this incredible new voice in literature is Abi Dare. The book won the Bath Novel Award for unpublished manuscripts in 2018, and fortunately for us readers, it was published in 2020.

It is the story of a fourteen year old Nigerian girl, Adunni. When her mother dies young, her penniless father takes her out of school and sells her as a third wife to an old man. It had been her mother’s dream that Adunni would stay in school and get an education. As her mother told her before she died:

“In this a village, if you go to school, no one will be forcing you to marry any man. But if you didn’t go to school, they will marry you to any man once you are reaching fifteen years old. Your schooling is your voice child. It will be speaking till the day God is calling you come.”

That day, I tell myself that even if I am not getting anything in this life, I will go to school. I will finish my primary and secondary and university schooling and become a teacher because I don’t want to be having any kind of voice…

I want a louding voice.

Certainly this poetic and lyrical novel is in a louding voice. It takes a bit of getting used to the verb tenses and expressions used, but within not many pages, what seemed awkward and difficult to follow becomes a marvelous look at the world through the eyes of a girl who wants above all to get an education. 

…he [her father] was telling me three years ago, that I must stop my educations. That time, I was the most old of all in my class and all the childrens was always calling me “Aunty.” I tell you true, the day I stop school and the day my mama was dead is the worst day of my life.

When her first old husband dies, she is sold again to a younger man and has to move to her husband’s family house where she is lorded over by a tyrannical mother-in-law. She escapes that house and husband, and is secretly sold as a domestic servant to a wealthy household in Lagos. The woman of the house sells fabrics to other wealthy women. Adunni addresses her as Big Madam. Subjected to the frequent rages of Big Madam, and always on guard against the lecherous advances of the shiftless man of the house, fortunately one of the servants, Abu, takes pity on the girl and manages to slip her food and aids her in other ways as well.

Her dreams of an education seem doomed until she meets a progressive and enlightened Nigerian woman at one of Big Madam’s parties. Ms. Tia slips books to Adunni and helps her with her English. Adunni is sure that if she can learn to speak ‘good’ English, she will somehow, someday be able to pursue her dreams of an education. The author quite subtley makes fun of the very notion of proper or good English, although it takes Adunni years to discover just how really good her English is.

Ms. Tia is from abroad, and while Adunni has little idea of just what that is, she senses that is the direction she needs to follow. 

I didn’t too sure I understand what Ms. Tia is talking about, or why she is calling her Abroad peoples white and black when colors are for crayons and pencils and things. I know that not everybody is having the same color of skin in Nigeria, even me and Kayus and Born-boy didn’t have same skin color, but nobody is calling anybody black or white, everybody is just calling us by our names: Adunni, Kayus, Born-boy. That’s all.

This wonderful book is peppered with  what to me are amazing facts about Nigeria and its place in the world. In a short prologue to the novel, Dare tells her readers:

Nigeria is a country located in West Africa. With a population of just under 180 million people, it is the seventh most populous country in the world, which means that one in seven Africans is a Nigerian. As the sixth largest crude oil exporter in the world, and with a GDP of $568.5 billion, Nigeria is the richest country in Africa. Sadly, over 100 million Nigerians live in poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day.

As I was looking over the book again yesternight (one of Adunni’s many so logical uses of the language), I was swept away again by the passion of this louding voice, and hoping I could to justice to the novel in reviewing it. 

Abi Dare succeeded in getting an education; she holds degrees in law, project management and creative writing and lives in the UK. 

Adunni is a character I will not forget. Her louding voice sings to me, whispers in my ear, and should give hope to many young girls all over the world who want to learn and to choose their own futures.

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