When I was sent a review copy of this book I immediately saw that it was beautifully written. I guessed that the subject matter would be bleak, but despite the brutality of the heroine’s life in Niger, her story as told by Northern Irish writer Gavin Weston is lively, engaging and pleasure to read
At the start of the novel the heroine Haoua is only ten. Life in her village is eked out from the land and made only a little less harsh by the presence of aid workers who provide a basic medical service. Haoua has a happy family life and has been selected to be part of a sponsorship programme. This means she can attend school which she loves and in exchange her father receives additional aid. When Haoua’s brother comes home on leave from the army, the cracks in the family start to show. Haoua’s father is a womaniser and it soon emerges that her mother is suffering from AIDS. When she is taken away to be looked after in hospital, Haoua is removed from school and it gradually becomes clear that she is destined to be given in marriage to her uncle, an even more objectionable man than her father. Haoua’s life is also contrasted with that of an Irish family who correspond with her as part of the sponsorship plan.
This book is characterised by detailed descriptions of village life (the author has been an aid worker) and the authenticity of the heroine’s voice. Through her distinctive speech patterns, characterised by elements of French and her native language, we experience the reality of life in the desert, a trip through the night in the back of a camion, a ride through her country’s capital on a bicycle, the everyday activities of washing, grinding grain and making a dung floor. The impact of politics on the lives of ordinary people is also explored.
There is no tidy or redemptive ending here, but for me this was as much drama documentary as fiction. As a slice of life in present-day Africa it’s both convincing and absorbing. I learned a great deal and thoroughly enjoyed the read.
I read this on Kindle but it’s now in paperback too.