Book review: The girl with the louding voice by Abi Daré

In her debut novel Abi Daré, uses pidgin English to tell a powerful story of Adunni – a fourteen-year-old girl who fights to overcome the turbulence of life in order to become a girl with a louding voice. 

The story of Adunni begins in a Nigerian village called Ikati – where men are allowed to take multiple wives and teenage girls are married off to older men. Here, the rule of law is administered by the village chief. Adunni lives with her alcoholic father and two brothers. Her mother, who was the breadwinner in the household, has passed away.

After her mother’s passing, Adunni’s father, unable to afford her school fees of 7000 naira, forces Adunni to drop out of school. Later, when he can’t put up enough money for community rent of 30 000 naira, he breaks the promise he made to Adunni’s mother to keep Adunni in school. He marries her off for some goats, gric fowl, two bags of rice and money, to an old taxi driver in the village, Morufu. Adunni becomes the third wife to Morufu. 

But the young girl wants an education – “a louding voice”. It is at this point that her life is rocked upside down. 

But even with the problems she is facing, Adunni does not forget her mother’s final words to her; that having an education would expose her to a life of many possibilities. 

“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”, said Adunni’s mother. 

On that day, Adunni promised herself 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 just want to be having any kind voice… I want a louding voice.”

In an interview with Penguin Random House, Daré explained that for Adunni, having “a louding voice” means to refuse to be silenced by society; to have the desire to go for everything good and everything positive that can come her way. It is getting an education, it’s having a legacy and fighting for girls coming behind her to have an education. 

Although that is what Adunni desires the most, things do not work out exactly as she dreamt. A series of events take place while being married to Morufu, which force her to take off. 

The book is written in the first person, where Adunni uses pidgin to tell her story in a both a fierce and lush way. However, for readers who are not familiar with pidgin, it might be hard at first to easily dive into the rich story of the protagonist. But there is a deeper point to why Daré would write a 312-page book in this way. 

When Adunni starts working as a servant in Big Madam’s house in Lagos, she takes up the opportunity to use their library filled with all kinds of books to teach herself how to read. She uses the Collins dictionary to learn the meaning of complex English words. With the help of Big Madam’s neighbour, her English improves and Daré shows this by stringing together grammatically correct sentences that Adunni is now able to use.

Although the protagonist wants to get an education and learn how to speak English, the author was able to show that devoid of these two things, Adunni is still a smart girl, and proficiency in the English language does not equate to intelligence. The author shows this by letting us into Adunni’s mind, specifically in how she explains and questions some of the things she has gone through. 

In a subtle way, the book also explores patriarchy, child sex trafficking, physical and emotional abuse, pregnancy-related death and male infertility. This was done by weaving stories of other women around Adunni, who have also endured their own kinds of suffering. 

Adunni confronts many challenges in this book, but she does not lose faith. No matter what she faces, she keeps hope that one day, she is going to be the girl with a louding voice.

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

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