War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi
Publisher: Razorbill Books (October 15th, 2019)
“She has walked through so much of her life believing the flesh and meat inside bodies so easily hackable and broken, so easily understood and manipulated, but now she sees that she was wrong. Her skin is hard. It endures. It grows scar tissue to make itself stronger. It molds itself. It adapts. It persists.”
Did you study of The Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War? I am embarrassed to say that I’ve never even heard of it. Apparently I’m not alone. There is very little literature about the war, and what does exist is largely propaganda. War Girls offers a fictional scope into a very real political climate of a country torn by racism, a lack of political representation, and oil.
The War Girls are Biafrans who attempted to hide themselves from the war, to survive in the woods on their own compound. But their luck runs out, and Onyii and her sister Ify are separated, and end up on opposite sides of the civil war. Onyii, believing her sister dead, becomes a weapon for her commanding officer, and is called the Demon of Biafra. Ify is unknowingly adopted by the man who cut her sister’s arm off as a child, and is assimilated into the Nigerian country. Both of them are being used.
"Be the ram for them.”
Onyii has destroyed herself, body and soul, for the good of her country. Upping herself constantly with drugs and repairing her broken body with mechanical parts, she is more of a shell than a girl. When speaking with a friend, they speak of Abraham and his sacrifice of his son. When God sends him the ram so that he may spare his son, Onyii realizes that she is not Abraham. She is not the son. She is the ram.
"But Onyii sees a girl who wanted nothing of this, who had no desire for bloodshed or gunfire, who picked up a rifle only reluctantly.
This is what war does to us, Onyii tells herself.”
Her best friend, commanding officer, Chinelo, is one of the last people she loves. A brave, smart girl, she is one of the last pieces tethering Onyii to the earth. The potential she has to do great things is wasted on battle strategies and war politics. She and Ify represent the potential war destroys.
"'Its ok,’ OnyII says, and she knows she’s lying, but she has learned that sometimes it is her job as a big sister to lie to them, if only to bring them a moment of peace. Of relief.
If you shall do it, do it to me, she says to the world. To the war that is waiting for them.”
This quote really brought the point home for me. All of the children are being lied to. And deep down, most of them know it. They buy the lies because they are easier going down than the truth, that their sacrifice of their lives and humanity are being wasted on the greed of men.
I've read a few books recently that remind me why books are so important, why people who are successful read, why libraries are the true backbone of a civilized country. Knowledge is power. Those who are powerful try to suppress knowledge to hoard their power, to keep it from others. Tochi Onyebuchi gifts us with the powerful truth, disguised as a sci-fi novel.
5/5, HIGHLY RECOMMEND