Thank you, Katherine Tegan Publishing, for an ARC for an honest review. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani will be Released on September 4th, 2018.
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was born in Enugu, Nigeria and currently lives in Abuja, Nigeria. While researching Ms. Nwaubani I noticed something very striking. Of all the essays, letters and work she has done for media outlets such as the BBC and the Guardian (and they took some digging to find) only two focused on her story.
Even her own website offered only a brief five sentence summary on her about page. Mine is two paragraphs long and this world has much more to gain from Ms. Nwaubani having the gift of ramble than I. The rest focused on the stories of others, such as a series of letters on the BBC from Africa They included one about a Nigerian man who wrote hymns. He also had Leprosy.
Knowing the background of Ms. Nwaubani, it should be no surprise that Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is the fictional account of true events from the 2014 raid by the Boko Haram terrorist group on a Nigerian village. Young women were kidnapped, and it is the testimony of survivors that this story is based. Factual and chilling emotional context is brought to that night in 2014 by award winning journalist, Viviana Mazza. Before working with Ms. Nwaubani on Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree the co-authored Stolen Girls. Seven girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram in 2014 were given voices through both narration and true accounts.
There will be analysis of the plot but I will not spoil the emotional upheaval of what befalls Ya Ta and Sarah and the other girls after the chapter Bang. There is nothing I can say or do to bring justice to Ms. Nwaubani and Ms. Mazza’s work. Spoilers for the foundation, structure and techniques utilized in the writing but not in the plot from the chapter Surprise going forward.
Ms. Nwaubani interlaces coming of age rituals that bond all girls together such as common household chores, daydreams and waiting for puberty, praying for scholarships and acceptance to your number one university pick. Similarly relaying the traditions of best friends, educational routines we take for granted soon to be shattered by the reality of a world that makes us grow up and apart without warning.
Foreshadowing is employed well multiple times. There is a class lesson early in the book that centers on democracy. When asked by the teacher to define it, only she and her best friend Sarah can answer the question. The boys do not know what it means. At school, Ya Ta is free to answer and it is demanded by the teacher that all clap for her but at home she is not allowed to speak. Another time her mother reminds everyone that
“We must always find reasons to thank God… Everything happens for a reason.”
In the chapter Storyteller, you start to see some of the warning signs many spoke of at the time of the actual incident. Smaller incidents that were breaking out here and there but went without being dealt. As the Ya Ta mentions, sometimes they weren’t always believed. However, the incidents continue. They grow, and they spread. A second incident, this one a car bomb in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri killed at least 17 people was also claimed by Boko Haram. Although the military arrested a suspect. This isn’t the last warning sign to come as Boko Haram continues their reign, targeting police stations, government buildings, churches, villages and towns.
Until they reach Izghe. Here, the repetitive line of, “We are/They are/He is talking about Boko Haram utilized well to emphasize the tactics developed by the terrorist organization to infiltrate villages, towns and other places they mean to annihilate. Sometimes killing all the men and wearing their clothes, dressing in the uniform of their trade until they can catch women off guard, kidnapping and making the women disappear. Or they use fear tactics of motorcycles and automatic ammunition. Suicide bombers hide their weapons in tool boxes before going into markets, schools, churches or other well-occupied areas to detonate their bombs.
I think we’ve all had days or weeks where the greatest and worse thing in the world has happened to us. I think we can also say we have never (I can’t even say working in Rockefellar Square during 9/11 comes in the ballpark of reading the chapter Bang and what follows), have experienced the exhilaration and utter terror that Ya Ta does between the chapters of Surprise and Bang.
There is proof in these pages that follow that within masterful imagery, foul language and gore is not needed to evoke gut wrenching pain that stays with you long past the reading of any text. Nor to singe that imagery in your mind’s eyes forever.
From the loss of loved ones to learning to disassociate and barely hold on to your own will to survive, it tells the tale of women who bare unthinkable violations against their bodies, their minds, their beliefs and their basic sense of humanity, of existence. They are stories that took courage, bravery and fortitude just to tell. To live through them, to write them are acts of sheer will unknown by me. But I thank all involved for bringing it to the world as a path to discussion, a call to action for all women who suffer at these acts around the world everyday.
There is proof in these pages that while resilience is an light that burns brighter than any other will in those that possess it, it can be finite. Watching someone you love have their resilience broken, their mind succumb can make you give up your resilience to all you hold true. Unless you can hold on to the one thing: Yourself. Make it out in one piece and you can bring them back to and that is the most precious gift you can give anyone. Give them back themselves. And then, just maybe, you will have the chance to breakdown yourself and they will be there to hold tight to you.
Ms. Mazza’s Afterword: The Chosen Generation is essential to the reading of this work. It is a history, a discussion of how people all around the world took action in 2014 and what has inspired them both to keep their call to arms. It is both successes and disappointments. It is also a very realistic portrait of life in Nigeria as it currently plays out day-to-day. From Nigeria’s own fake media issues to what they often call the battle for the country’s soul. While this is an important story, a famous story. It is but one story, one piece of a larger puzzle that is far from understood and even farther from being neutralized.
Due to the nature and content of this novel and the review, should I have gotten anything out of context, incomplete or wrong, please let me know so I can fix it immediately. Thank you.