Likely Stories: Girl by Edna O’Brien

Jan 23, 2020

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies

Josephine Edna O'Brien was born December 15, 1930.  She is an Irish novelist playwright, poet, and short-story writer.  The President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, cited her as "one of the great creative writers of her generation."  She has penned more than 25 works of fiction.  Her stories are heartfelt, poignant, and breathtaking.  


Girl is a story based on a real event of kidnapping and terror.  She opens the story in a horrific manner.  Edna writes, “I was a girl once, but not any more.  I smell.  Blood dried and crusted all over me, and my wrapper in shreds.  My insides a morass.  Hurtled through this forest that I saw, that first awful night, when I and my friends were snatched from the school. // The sudden pah-pah of gunshots in our dormitory and men, their faces covered, eyes glaring, saying they are the military come top protect us, as there is an insurrection in the town.  We were afraid, but we believed them.  Girls staggered out of bed and others came from the veranda, where they had been sleeping because it was a warm, clammy night” (1).  This horrible story is based on the abduction by Boko Haram of a large number of young girls.

The story continues with terror and despair.  She was given a name, Maryam.  With her child, she bravely attempted an escape.  O’Brien writes, “We were out. // Over a trench and into the first frontier of the forest.  It was dark, darker still where the trees meshed overhead.  Paths and slopes were wayward, but we ran with a speed we did not know we had.  Our legs vaulted us. // We had run a great distance before we flopped down under a cover of trees.  Old mulch leaves beneath us, green leaves above us and our hearts hammering.  Babby was asleep, as if she had died.  We were unable to speak.  A bird with a chestnut belly chirped ceaselessly as it stood on the ground looking at us.  Fat tears fell from our eyes.  Finally [her friend] Buki whispered, ‘We are free…we are free.’ 

Not since the girls had been taken that morning, long ago, to be sold as brides, had the word free escaped our lips.  The leaves were still shedding water, and we raised our faces to them, to be baptized anew, to be washed clean.  The shelters that flowed from those trees, so benign, so differed from the tamarind seed we sat under. // We were a little hysterical.  We kissed the moist mossy barks and pressed our foreheads to them in gratitude” (62-63).

Maryam was rescued, but unfortunately, she fell into the clutches of ignorance and hatred of those she thought were her own people.  Edna writes, “She had nuts, a fistful of seeds and a piece of bread which she broke in three.  To anyone observing us from above we would have seemed lost and insignificant, but to ourselves, we were champions.  Babby held her piece of bread in her mouth and sucked on it, her sole sustenance.  We pulled up tufts of grass and moss to make pillows, because the roots of those trees had spawned and were hard and sinewy.  Bukki and Babby fell fast asleep” (63). 

Girl by Edna O’Brien is a heroic story of a young woman fighting against all odds to save herself and her child.  Based on a true story, I found it difficult to put down, and even harder to continue to the end.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!