We all be speaking different because we all are having different growing-up life, but we can all be understanding each other if we just take the time to listen well.
“…who knows what else tomorrow will bring? So, I nod my head yes, because it is true, the future is always working, always busy unfolding better things, and even if it doesn’t seem so sometimes, we have hope of it.”
It was dislike at first sight. “What the hell is a louding voice?” I shrieked, quite unnecessarily, to my friend when I first came across the book in her room. “Is it a typo? Surely they mean loud voice?” It was her who informed me that the book is written primarily in Nigerian pidgin English, which for no reason at all annoyed me even more. I was hating heavily. A year went by and I came across the book in another friend’s house. At this point I decided to pause my pettiness and just read the book. A few pages in, I decided to order my own copy to my house and I am glad I did.
The Girl with the Louding Voice, published in 2020, is the debut novel by Nigerian writer Abi Dare. The book is from the first person viewpoint of Adunni nosurname, a fourteen year old girl trying to survive in a rural Nigerian village with no mother and a daft father. Adunni is a bright intelligent girl, whose potential is unfortunately stifled by poverty and ignorance. In an environment where the girlchild is not valued, she wants more for herself and hopes to achieve it through education. This mindset is birthed by her mother who fantasises of the life she could have had if she had been educated, and wants to ensure her daughter’s life does not end up the same way.
In this 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 for you even if you didn’t open your mouth to talk. 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 teacher because I don’t want to be having any kind of voice …. I want a louding voice.
As Adunni’s mother lay dying she makes her husband promise to allow their daughter complete her education. Unsurprisingly, her lazy no-good father reneges on his promise and marries her off to his age-mate in order to pay off his debts.
I have a fine girl child at home. At your age, you are not suppose to be in the house You are suppose to have born at least one or two children by this time.
Understandably Adunni is devasted and outraged by this, and tries her hardest to avoid this fate. Despite her protests, she is married off to a nauseating oaf who already has two wives, four daughters (one of them her own age) and is in search of a wife to give him a son. The whole thing is stomach churning.
Just yesterday Morufu tell me that if you manage and give him a boy as first born, he will give me ten thousand naira.
“This is your wife now, from today till forever, she is your own. Do her anyhow you want. Use her till she is useless! May she never sleep in her father house again!” and everybody was laughing and saying, “Congra-lations! Amen! Congra-lations!”
This begins a descent into a life of strife and sorrow; and sets off a series of events that takes Adunni’s young life, already filled with so much sadness, into the abyss of despair. Life with Morufu is unbearable and Adunni tries to make the best of things until an unfortunate incident forces her to flee and somehow she ends up in Lagos. A new city brings little relief, as the abuse and unfairness continues. But Adunni is resilient and has a louding voice so she manages to persevere.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I could hardly stand to put it down. In one word-riveting. The story is moving, and covers everything from poverty, child marriage, marital rape, lack of access to education and medical care, abuse, child labour. There is so much sadness in this book, made more heart-breaking by the age of the protagonist. She is literally a child. Some parts are difficult to read but there are also lots of light moments which made me laugh. I felt all the emotions reading this book. This is the reality of so many young girls worldwide, and I am so privileged to not experience any of that. It is a really good book.
One thing stuck out to me- though Adunni’s life is hard, she always manages to encounter help through a friendly face. There is a lot that happens, and in every situation she finds that she is not alone. Despite the challenges that she faces, she maintains her fierce determination for education and louding voice, which endears her to other characters and the reader as well. She is also funny.
In the end I did not mind that the book was in pidgin. I did however note that the language was not consistent, which was bound to happen. The idea is that Adunni is barely literate and so cannot speak proper English hence the use of pidgin, however there are times that the pidgin slips. For example:
“My mama is nothing but a sweet memory of hope, a bitter memory of pain, sometimes a flower, other times a flashing light in the sky.”
I don’t believe the sentence above was constructed by someone who says “louding voice” and “Free” instead of freedom. It does not compute. Even the two quotes at the beginning of the post This is only a minor point however, and it did not take away from the greatness of the book. I would have happily read another hundred pages to get a resolution on everything that happened (and there was a lot) but sometimes imagination is best.
“A day will come when my voice will sound so loud all over Nigeria and the world of it, when I will be able to make a way for other girls to have their own louding voice, because I know that when I finish my education, I will find a way to help them to go to school.”