‘A sack full of precious stones will only slow down your trek through the wilderness, after all, and is better dumped by the wayside or exchanged for a cup of water.’
-Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
Buried Beneath The Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani chronicles the circumstances that lead to Magdalene’s body getting buried underneath the baobab tree in Sambisa forest. Her story represents the stories of thousands of girls, with similar beginnings and varying endings. The book is a diary-style documentation of the life of Ya Ta, which translates to ‘My Daughter’ from Hausa. It manages to introduce very difficult conversations without being too triggering. Written in first person, it begins with the ordinary life of a smart secondary school student living in Northern Nigeria.
Within the first few chapters, we see her dreams and her relationship with her best friend and family. We watch her live the life of the average teenage girl—self-consciousness about her body image, worry about her period, anxiety about her crush. Against the background of BBC News and updates about Boko Haram’s activities, tragedy strikes suddenly, as it is wont to do. Ya Ta and her friends—Magdalene, Aisha, and Sarah, represent the varying endings of Boko Haram abductees; Magdalene is stoic in her beliefs, refuses to convert to Islam, and is killed; child-bride Aisha, who has to stop her education when she gets married to an older man, dies during childbirth due to the absence of proper healthcare; Sarah changes to Zainab, is successfully brainwashed and joins the jihad; Ya Ta, our girl, escapes but not without the cost of her mental health and future. The baobab tree which was a symbol of happiness and fun for the girls turns into their graveyard, the girls are stripped bare of their innocence and clothed with horrors and abuse.
The namelessness of our protagonist heightens the facelessness of the many victims of Boko Haram, with their different names, ages, and dreams blurring into each other. Her award-winning debut, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, showcased Adaobi’s talent for well-paced storytelling, Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree cements her name in this role. Reading this book, we wear the shoes of these girls—the reader partakes in their suffering, their anxiety is our worry, and shares their joy, however few. It manages to be factual and true to history without being too academic and rid of emotions. Adaobi has mastered the fusion of fiction and creative non-fiction. The afterword by Italian journalist, Viviana Mazza, is the perfect icing on the cake. Here, Mazza gives context to the story by giving the historical accounts of the unfortunate events that form the background of the story, including the kidnap of the Chibok girls. She also explains, in detail, the investigative process and research that went into writing the book.
One must admit, however, that the writing is not spectacular. It is categorized as a ‘Young Adult’ novel recommended for readers between the ages of 13 and 17. The sentences are very simple and basic. On one hand, it could be argued that the sentence structure reflects the casual thoughts of a teenage girl. On the other hand, it can be argued that a girl who can think of a line as poetic as ‘how does one draw blood from a stone’ (page 251) has it in her to think in beautiful prose.
The book covers family, child brides, rape, terrorism, friendship, betrayal, religious freedom and intolerance.
Summarily, the book is a strong 3.5/5. It is a great pick for young adults who enjoy history and anyone trying to get out of a reading slump. It is ideal for classrooms and your local book club.
Oreoluwa Oyinlola is a writer and finalist at the University of Ibadan. When she is not looking at photos of cats on the internet, she is writing fiction, creative non-fiction or, book reviews.