Tinea's Reviews > The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria

The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila
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bookshelves: colonialism-imperialism-war, place

A few hours read, a few vignettes of a place and time: southern Borno State during the Boko Haram war. A bit of history and perspective on the war, the staccato attacks of Boko Haram and the long, lazy occupations of unpaid military and civilian vigilantes. One of the few written reminders of the diversity of Borno, the Christians and animists who don't practice Islam, for whom Kanuri and Hausa are foreign languages, who bristled at the state-imposed Sharia and felt its weight before Boko Haram imposed their violent nihilist vision on everyone else.

Habila is from Gombe and had perhaps better access to Chibok than many authors writing for an American audience (he talks to the reader at one point, grounding some Nigerian reality in American lived experience). This served him well as he created scene and mood, but didn't grant him some scoop or particular insight. At the end of the book Habila sums up the banality of the attack on Chibok and the arbitrary luck of escapee and enslaved. This idea of banality is so true in this conflict of hundreds of girls, so many more than just those at school in Chibok, used as disposable domestic slaves and weapons of war, strapped to bombs and pushed into crowds, of thousands of displaced civilians targeted over and over in their camps and mosques and markets by ineffective, poorly made bombs that kill through sheer numbers and perseverance not firepower, sheer numbers of cheap little girls strapped to bombs and pushed into crowds who the militants send out endlessly against the people from the places the militants control, to little military advantage but constant, cruel, numbing terror. why. how pointless. how banal is this conflict.

Habila gets his interview with some Chibok girls, and they repeat the same story they've told over and over again to all media. Habila prints it and laments the banality of this story with the same defeatism he laments the banality of bribes at military checkpoints. It seems a disservice to have trekked so far to push these girls to repeat the same story, and then to rewrite it for this book, with no context on their treatment, their wellbeing, the movement to free them, and a throwaway line dismissing the heroism of their escapes-- confusing the present dullness from repetition of the story and perhaps ongoing or new traumas with banality in their heroic moments, erasing their agency and daring instead of seizing and centering it. The mass of untold stories in Nigeria's Northeast makes the horror of attack and capture and the courage of escape seem banal, and Habila's book kept it that way.
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Reading Progress

July 4, 2018 – Started Reading
July 4, 2018 – Shelved
July 5, 2018 – Shelved as: colonialism-imperialism-war
July 5, 2018 – Shelved as: place
July 5, 2018 – Finished Reading

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