by Holly L.
“So good. It’s so good.” This was the recommendation from my discriminating and well-read colleague at Miller Branch. I had already gravitated toward this novel based on the cover art alone. The royal blue background offsets bold canary yellow text: The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. The all caps letters hinting at what a “louding voice” might look like when spelled out. The artwork appears to be a collage, with red paper flowers adorned with petals cut from the pages of a book, what appears to be a dictionary. Trace the flowers down to their stems and they seem to be blooming from the silhouette of a young woman. We see little else but her elegant profile, pitch black but for some bursts of fuchsia and crimson highlighting her features and hair, her headband and clothing vivid strips resembling Ankara fabric. Her expression is unreadable. Studying this striking cover, I wondered what exactly this girl had to say.
Ready to listen, I donned my earbuds and became quickly engaged by the sonorous voice of the audiobook’s narrator Adjoa Andoh, a veteran of British stage and screen and narrator of many audiobooks. The prologue, an excerpt from the “The Book of Nigerian Facts,” highlights the persistence of widespread poverty in Nigeria despite being it the richest country in Africa due to being a major crude oil exporter. I continued to listen as the first chapter began and I was confronted with a different voice (though the same reader), that of the main character, Adunni. After her father beckons her to come close, the fourteen year-old reflects:
“I know he want to tell me something bad. I can see it inside his eyes; his eyesballs have the dull of a brown stone that been sitting inside hot sun for too long. He have the same eyes when he was telling me, three years ago, that I must stop my educations. That time, I was the most old of all in my class and all the childrens was always calling me “Aunty.” I tell you true, the day I stop school and the day my mama was dead is the worst day of my life.”
Adunni speaks not in the pidgin English that is common in the author’s native Nigeria, but a broken English borne from Daré’s imagination. I admit that it took me several minutes to get used to this dialect but once I acclimated to Adunni’s voice I found myself enthralled by this tenacious and resilient young woman. Rich in determination but poor by birth and circumstance, she lacks what she most passionately desires—an education.
When the story begins young Adunni learns that her poor father has sold her into marriage with a prosperous and wretched old taxi driver named Morufu. After a few agonizing months as Morufu’s third wife, Adunni flees after a tragic event. She finds her way to bustling Lagos, where she is placed as a maid for a wealthy business owner named Big Madam, an imposing woman whose laugh, “sound like a rumble, a big rock rolling down a mountain.” While she labors around the clock as a domestic servant to Big Madam and her predatory deadbeat husband, Big Daddy, Adunni looks for opportunity wherever she can find it. With the help of Ms. Tia, a kind and well-connected woman, Adunni’s vision of a path toward independence becomes clearer. She begins to stake a place for her own future while paving a way for other young women and girls from small villages like her own. As her mother insisted before passing away in her forties, “your schooling is your voice.” Adunni took this advice to heart, forever insisting on her right to an education.
I found so much to admire in the character of Adunni, with her seemingly bottomless reserves of strength and optimism despite the ongoing trials that threaten to break her. This is a young woman whose dream of a better life will not be denied, her “louding voice” lifting not only herself up, but anyone willing to share in her story.
I’m so glad I took the time to listen.
Holly is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting, preferably with a strong cup of tea and Downton Abbey in the queue.