Farrar. Oct. 2019. 240p. ISBN 9780374162559. pap. $26. F
Nigerian schoolgirl Maryam is modest, studious, and pious, but these virtues do not spare her from abduction by Boko Haram militants. After being enslaved, mutilated, and raped, Maryam is a young woman on the run, a newborn child strapped to her back. Wracked by hunger, thirst, illness, and injury, she journeys through landscapes decimated by violence and drought to be restored to her family and promoted by the government as proof that the terrorists will be vanquished. She is also a stain on her community, separated from her baby, and threatened and abused by her family. Once again, Maryam escapes, eventually establishing some security. But will she ever be free? Has she ever been?
VERDICT This latest from PEN/Nabokov Award winner O’Brien (The Little Red Chairs) bears witness to and powerfully indicts the atrocities experienced by women. The extremities of Maryam’s experience, suggests O’Brien, are particularly horrific instances of the sexism, chauvinism, and cruelty that circumscribe the existence of all women, and to be a girl in the world is to experience these sinister forces over the course of a lifetime. Tough but rewarding reading.

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