I have, in previous posts, declared that I would not read novels with ‘girl’ in the title. But I made an exception for this one because it was recommended by readers I respect, and because the main character is a girl. She is fourteen when the novel opens.
And being a girl of 14, it is shocking that the novel opens with the scene where Adunni’s father tells her that he has negotiated with Morufu for her to become his third wife. Her father will receive a generous bride price. This will end Adunni’s ambition to become a girl with a louding voice.
The Girl with the Louding Voice
Adunni is a girl of 14, brought up in Ikati, a village in rural Nigeria. She is the narrator of her story. Her mother died and she is left with two brothers and a father. The family are very poor, and Adunni has already had to give up primary school to take on her mother’s domestic duties. She has an ambition: to become a girl with a louding voice. Here louding means something like amplification, but also confidence. She explains her ambitions to her friend Ms Tia.
‘My mama say education will give me a voice. I want more than just a voice, Ms Tia. I want a louding voice,’ I say. ‘I want to enter a room and people will hear me even before I open my mouth to be speaking. I want to live in this life and help many people so when I grow old and die, I will still be living through the people I am helping. Think it, Ms Tia. If I can go to school and become a teacher, then I can collect my salary and maybe even build my own school in Ikati and be teaching the girls. The girls in my village don’t have much chance for school. I want to change that, Ms Tia, because those girls, they will grow up and born many more great people to make Nigeria even more better than now.’ (224)
On her marriage she goes to live in Morufu’s compound, where she finds his two wives and some daughters. Adunni must endure much for Morufu’s wish for a son. She makes friends with his second wife, Kadije. When Kadije is nearly ready to deliver her baby the two younger wives go to a nearby village apparently to consult with a midwife. But here disaster happens and Adunni must escape the village for ever.
She is trafficked to Lagos, where she works for no wages as a house girl for Big Madam. Here is her description of her first meeting with Big Madam as her employer gets out of her car.
First thing I am seeing is feets. Yellow feets, black toes. There is different colour paint in all the toenails: red, green, orange, purple, gold. The smallest of the toes is having a gold ring on it. Her whole body is almost filling the whole compound as she is coming out. I am now understanding why they are calling her Big Madam. When she come out, she draw deep breath and her chest, wide like blackboard, is climbing up and down, up and down. …
She take two step near to us, then I am seeing her face well. Her face is looking like one devil-child vex with her and paint it with his feets. On top of the orange powder on her face, there is a red line on the two both eyebrows which she is drawing all the way out to her ears. Green powder on the eyelids. Lips with gold lipstick, two cheeks full of red powder. (122-3)
At first it seems as if she has escaped from Ikati and the torments of her marriage to Morufu only to experience slave conditions in the household of the wealthy businesswoman. Her life is made more difficult by Big Papa, who tries to rape her. He is the most despicable of all the characters: he betrays Big Madam, even with her friend, seduces previous house girls, lives off Big Madam and has no job.
But while her time with Big Madam is difficult, she is befriended by Kofi, the Ghanaian cook, and Abu the Muslim driver. She also meets the neighbour, Ms Tia, who is not in the same mould as Big Madam and her rich friends. All three help Adunni to enter a competition for female domestic servants to receive a scholarship to study at school. The drama between Big Madam and Papa allows her eventual freedom.
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 go to school. (312)
Adunni’s story is a very engaging one. To start with she is very young and with few resources to face the obstacles to her ambition. But she has determination, and a very likeable honesty and has deeply rooted integrity.
Additionally, the author has created a very appealing voice for her narrator. The malapropisms in her use of the English language, not her first language, draws attention to her naivety and her clear sightedness. The reader is forced to see the story from the point of view of an ill-educated but determined and intelligent young woman. Her own voice is louding because she describes the misogyny, the exploitation of young women, the lack of integrity she encounters in Lagos and pursues her ambitions with such determination.
Abi Daré was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the UK for her university education. She now lives with her partner and children in Essex. The Girl with the Louding Voice is her first novel and has been well received. It was a New York Times bestseller, chosen as a Book at Bedtime for Radio 4. She was included in the Guardian’s list of 10 best debut novelists in 2020.
I look forward to more from Abi Daré.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré was published in 2020 by Sceptre. 314pp