What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie

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What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: Sensitively handled account of a Somali girl fighting to protect herself and her sister from FGM.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: May 2015
Publisher: Short Books Ltd
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780721798

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This story is narrated by Zahra, a teenage girl who spends her early years in her home country of Somalia before her family move to the UK to escape civil war. Inevitably, some traditions travel with them and in the novel Zahra recounts her efforts to protect herself and her younger sister, Samsam, against FGM, a practice that claimed the life of her older sister in Somalia several years previously. Zahra intersperses her account with flashbacks to Somalia and the civil war that drove them away, thus giving a clear picture of the trials that she and her family have faced.

The book had me hooked from the first page and I read it in more or less one sitting. It depicts the clash of cultures, not always in great depth but with enough detail to be thought-provoking. There are lots of opportunities for the author to go off on a tangent but, wisely, she chooses to keep a tight focus on the main characters and plot. (For example, Zahra's friend Yasmin, who underwent FGM as a young child, is now at university in the UK. Yasmin's family believe that she is beginning to disregard tradition. She has a male friend but tells Zahra, intriguingly, that 'it's complicated'. Perhaps a ripe subject for a sequel?)

As a character, Zahra is very likeable. She is articulate, intelligent and canny. I feel that her language is perhaps rather too idiomatic for a girl who was born abroad and whose family speak no English but that's a minor point. As a reader you root for her from the start. Zahra represents a swath of society at risk of FGM and, by gunning for her, you are in effect voicing moral support for all victims past, present and, sadly, future. As the story progresses the tension increases: Zahra takes Samsam to London, they hide, they are found... Finally, a twist of fate brings them back to the family home and the story heads to its denouement... And here I was just a little disappointed. The last few chapters felt rather rushed, as though Emma Craigie were shoehorning all the necessary action into a few pages. The plot hung together, but only just, and the Damascene conversion of Zahra's mother felt too contrived, too much like an attempt at a happy ending where, in fact, the families in question were left in shreds.

I had to do my own research after I finished the book. I almost wish I hadn't, but not to do so would have been cowardly. I now know there are four broad categories of FGM, ranging from the monstrous to the barbaric, all utterly unimaginable to the average Western woman. It's a brutal subject but one that does need to be brought out into the open and Emma Craigie handles it sensitively. Quite appropriately, she refers in the acknowledgements to organisations fighting to protect girls from FGM, reminding us that there are very many Zahras and Samsams in this world, in Britain, even.

Despite my reservations about the final chapters, this was a great read about a difficult subject not often broached in fiction. It's targeted at Young Adults but - in my eyes, at least - is one of those books where age is no barrier.

For a more light-hearted account of immigration, have a look at Monica Ali's Brick Lane. And for FGM in a completely different genre, try Ruth Rendell's Not in the Flesh.

Buy What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Was Never Said by Emma Craigie at Amazon.com.


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