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Beneath the tamarind tree : a story of courage, family, and the lost schoolgirls of Boko Haram
2019
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Summary

"It is no accident that the places in the world where we see the most instability are those in which the rights of women and girls are denied. Isha Sesay's indispensable and gripping account of the brutal abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram terrorists provides a stark reminder of the great unfinished business of the 21st century: equality for girls and women around the world."-- Hillary Rodham Clinton

The first definitive account of the lost girls of Boko Haram and why their story still matters--by celebrated international journalist Isha Sesay.

In the early morning of April 14, 2014, the militant Islamic group Boko Haram violently burst into the small town of Chibok, Nigeria, and abducted 276 girls from their school dorm rooms. From poor families, these girls were determined to make better lives for themselves, but pursuing an education made them targets, resulting in one of the most high-profile abductions in modern history. While the Chibok kidnapping made international headlines, and prompted the #BringBackOurGirls movement, many unanswered questions surrounding that fateful night remain about the girls' experiences in captivity, and where many of them are today.

In Beneath the Tamarind Tree, Isha Sesay tells this story as no one else can. Originally from Sierra Leone, Sesay led CNN's Africa reporting for more than a decade, and she was on the front lines when this story broke. With unprecedented access to a group of girls who made it home, she follows the journeys of Priscilla, Saa, and Dorcas in an uplifting tale of sisterhood and survival.

Sesay delves into the Nigerian government's inadequate response to the kidnapping, exposes the hierarchy of how the news gets covered, and synthesizes crucial lessons about global national security. She also reminds us of the personal sacrifice required of journalists to bring us the truth at a time of growing mistrust of the media. Beneath the Tamarind Tree is a gripping read and a story of resilience with a soaring message of hope at its core, reminding us of the ever-present truth that progress for all of us hinges on unleashing the potential of women.

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Booklist Review
For nearly a decade, award-winning CNN anchor and correspondent Sesay covered hard-hitting stories from all around the world, but none affected her as deeply and as personally as the 2014 abduction in Nigeria of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram militants. Sesay's sustained and many-faceted inquiry has resulted in her first book and the first comprehensive chronicle of this brazen crime against educated girls.Born in England, Sesay spent much of her childhood in her parents' homeland, Sierra Leone, where her mother, like the kidnapped schoolgirls, was poor and at risk in a misogynistic society that discouraged girls from attending school. A ""fierce feminist, Sesay's mother earned a PhD and achieved many firsts as a woman in academia and politics while supporting three children, one severely disabled, after her husband's death when Sesay was 12. In reflecting on how Boko Haram's assault against the girls was meant to silence them, Sesay writes, To deny females a voice is to take away their ability to challenge the very practices and norms that subjugate and harm them. Furthermore: the only reason I'm able to take this stance and speak up is due to the fact I've been empowered by education, and that I was born to an educated mother. Sesay's intensely focused reporting helped turn the kidnapping and disappearance of the schoolgirls into an international cause célèbre, involving such high-profile figures as First Lady Michelle Obama in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. But with no new developments in the case, Sesay found herself almost alone in her determined pursuit of the truth, her persistent inquiries into the inadequate response of the Nigerian government provoking enemies serious enough to necessitate the presence of a bodyguard. Finally, her zeal and fortitude led to her meeting the 21 traumatized girls who were unexpectedly released in October 2016. She subsequently accompanied them on their dangerous journey home and developed a unique rapport with four of the courageous survivors and their families.In enthralling and unnerving passages that vary from an incisive history of Boko Haram to scenes that could be torn from a demented terrorist thriller to moments of heart-wrenching emotion, Sesay fully recounts each stage of the ordeal. She vividly describes the parched earth Chibok region in northern Nigeria, where struggling Christian farming families, a vulnerable minority in a Muslim region, sent their ambitious and disciplined daughters to the only boarding school available to them, a rudimentary place without electricity, running water, or security. There Priscilla, Mary, Saa, and Dorcas, each committed to their faith, families, studies, and career aspirations, were diligently preparing for exams when the terrorists materialized in the dead of night and destroyed their world.Sesay conducted hundreds of hours of conversations to understand what happened in the chaos of the ambush and during the girls' long, brutal, often bizarre captivity. At one point, the Boko Haram took the terrified yet resourceful and increasingly resolute girls deep into the forest where they confined them beneath a colossal tamarind tree, a living prison. The men abused, starved, threatened, beat, and harangued the girls, trying to force the Christian students to convert to Islam and marry militants. The young women banded together and resisted with prayers, valor, wit, and extraordinary strength.Peabody Award-winning Sesay's narrative is not only dramatically informative, it is also brilliantly structured, commandingly eloquent, and profoundly empathic. Her resounding and awed account of the girls' personalities, convictions, hopes, and achievements will stand with books by the Nobel laureates and women's-rights heroes Malala Yousafzai (I Am Malala, 2013) and Wangari Maathai (Unbowed, 2006), as well as with Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), Alexis Okeowo's A Moonless, Starless Sky (2017), and Sally A. Nuamah's How Girls Achieve (2019). Sesay's galvanizing Beneath the Tamarind Tree will recharge the global battle for women's equality.--Donna Seaman Copyright 2019 Booklist
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