cover image Girl


Edna O’Brien. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-16255-9

The harrowing story of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 provides the foundation of this emotional novel from O’Brien (The Little Red Chairs). Maryam, who narrates in a taut first person, is brutally ripped from her school in Nigeria, along with her classmates, and taken to a detention camp, where they are treated like cattle. Maryam has a child with a reckless fellow prisoner named Mahoud. Later, the chaos from an air attack allows her and her daughter to escape along with her friend Buki, but this is far from the end of her troubles. Days of starvation and exhaustion end when they take refuge in a remote outpost near a village, where they lay low for awhile before being embraced and nurtured by the women who live there. But when it’s learned that the villagers are “hiding a militant’s wife and child,” they are shunned and Maryam is forced to leave, splitting up from Buki. She goes to a military post, where she is mistaken for a suicide bomber and ends up being interviewed by authorities, which goes horribly wrong. O’Brien captures the intensity and urgency of Maryam’s plight with measured, evocative prose that often reads like poetry. She succeeds in putting a personal face on an international tragedy. (Sept.)