Book Review- The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
In “The Girl with the Louding Voice”, Abi Daré, a Nigerian-British author, shows us the world of Adunni, a 14-year-old girl who wants an education more than anything else. We see Adunni go through a really hard life- she is given away in marriage to a much older man, persecuted in that home, trafficked to Lagos to serve as a housemaid for one of Nigeria’s elite women, sexually harassed by Big Daddy and grossly maltreated by Big Madam. The book details Adunni’s journey of becoming -finding her louding voice – with the help of Ms. Tia Dada.
Abi Daré tells Adunni’s story in Adunni’s own voice – in broken English, no less. Adunni does not speak Nigerian pidgin which is the intentionally ‘flawed’ home-grown lingua and a highly perfected twist of English Language. Rather, she speaks clear English in her head, but she’s barely educated and so the language comes out as broken- very much broken. In the very first pages of this book, Adunni tells us of her father: ‘He have the same eyes when he 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.’
The Girl with the Louding Voice is very informative. Abi Daré uses Adunni to portray the disparagingly high levels of poverty in Nigeria- a country where about 100 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Many live from hand to mouth. Many are starving-of food, of water, of electricity, of shelter, or electricity, of information, of their rights. Abi Daré, quite importantly, shows us how poverty affects women specifically in Adunni’s story.
Because of poverty, parents are more likely to force their underage daughters into marriages, although this is also cultural as we see in the book. Adunni’s father gave her to Musa, a ‘rich’ taxi driver with two wives and a daughter of her age when she was 14. Her father’s biggest motivation for this is that the owo-ori (bride price) will pay their community rent of thirty thousand naira, along with two he-goats and other items. Not long after the marriage, Morufu similarly gives his 14-year- old daughter, Kike, away in marriage as he needs money to repair the windscreen of his taxi.
Abi Daré also addresses the problem of human trafficking, modern-day enslavement, and child labour. Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking which affects mostly women/girls and children (96% of trafficked people are women and children). The country also ranks 32 out of 167 with the highest number of slaves.
In the book, when Adunni gets into serious trouble, Mr. Ade, an ‘agent’, takes her from Ikati to Lagos to serve in Big Madam’s house. He receives her ten-thousand-naira monthly payment but she doesn’t get a dime from him.
The effects of gender inequality are clearly shown in this book. We see how patriarchy creates a chain of suppression- men suppress all women, and then women suppress other women particularly based on class. Khadijat, Morufu’s second wife informs Adunni: “Everybody is using baffroom anyhow they are wanting it. Just use it as you want…But I must tell you that our husband must be first. Very early in the morning, once the mosque call for prayer, or when the cock crow, around five in the morning. After that, anybody can use it. Our husband must do everything first. If he has not eaten food, nobody can be eating. He is king in this house.”
We experience as well, a culture that pits women together especially in a struggle for the attention of men, provoking jealousy among women. In Adunni’s forced marriage, Labake, Morufu’s first wife is mad at Adunni (her daughter’s age mate) and she calls her names- ashewo- even beats Adunni at the slightest opportunity.
We even see it with Big Madam, the extremely wealthy Lagos elite, who takes out all her frustrations on Adunni and Kofi (her chef). Adunni is really the girl with louding voice because when she finally uses her voice, she tells it to Big Madam, scared as she is: “He beats you nearly every time and fills you up with so much anger and sadness that when you see me and Kofi, you pour all of the anger out on us, on me most of all. Your husband, he makes you sad and…”
Like “The Thing Around Your Neck” in which Chimamanda tells 12 intriguing stories spanning diverse issues, Abi Daré is crafty in weaving in so many important issues in one book. She raises awareness about climate change through Ms. Tia, the activist who runs an environmental agency and chooses to live green in a ‘small’ comfortable home rather than waste energy maintaining a mansion like her peers. This is very relevant for Nigerians where the majority seem to think climate change doesn’t affect us in Africa, notwithstanding our complaints that ‘the heat is too much.’
Abi Daré takes us through fertility issues for both men and women; including the narrative that looks only on the woman when a couple does not yet have children. As more women are coming out to discuss their experiences with reproductive health and their bodies in general, it’s a good thing also to have this represented in our books, especially in this part of the world where sexual and reproductive health is taught in whispers.
Other topical issues that Abi Daré narrates include Nigeria’s harrowingly corrupt political class, and the far-reaching effects of religion, including traditional religion, on Nigerians.
Throughout the course of Adunni’s journey, we see a trail of women supporting women. Nearly all of her successes are hinged on the sacrifices and support of other women. Her mother had been the breadwinner and greatest motivation to go to school. Khadijat made living in Morufu’s house bearable for Adunni; she found a friend to lean on while she suffered from Morufu raping her on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays; and through Khadijat, she was able to get contraceptives. Kike shows her how to keep on dreaming about the life she wants even in the midst of suffering. Iya saves Adunni when she loses Khadijat, and Ms. Tia teaches her the steps to take to use her voice and achieve her dreams.
Importantly, the book revolves around the pressing need to educate girls today and what we can do in our own corners to help put an end to a culture that sees girls as commodities with minimal value.
The Girl with the Louding Voice is a really good book and I absolutely recommend. My copy was a gift purchased from Roving Heights Books.