Book Review | The Torn Petal: Mourning A Nation's Death!

Book Title: The Torn Petal
Author: Teresa Oyibo Ameh
Publisher: AMAB Books and Publishing
Pages: 31
Year of publication: 2017
Reviewer: Paul Liam

Teresa Oyibo Ameh is a famed children literature author with several titles to her name. The Torn Petal, her newest offering in that peculiar genre is a fictionalization of the dilemma of a nation at war with itself and the hopelessness of  her children caught in the theatrics of chaos, terrorism and the politics of survival.

The story is set in Adamawa,North East Nigeria, the heart of Boko Haram terrorists activities. Hussaina, the sixteen years old narrator introduces us to her family at the beginning of the narration, highlighting the beauty of interfaith coexistence exemplified by her parents' marriage; her father is a dedicated christian-preacher and her mother is a devoted muslim and their family is a very happy one fuelled by love and mutual respect for humanity. Hussaina recounts her memories of the peace and harmony which existed in the North East before the advent of the prophets of doom propagating extremist views and jihad:
In my part of the North East,
Mixed marriage was normal.
Be it religious or tribal.
Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully,
Without strife or rancor. (4)

Through the young narrator, Ameh paints a mosaic picture of the gory tales of the war torn region. The dearth of humanity and empathy even amongst a people distraught by communal grief is the heart of this poetically induced narrative. The narrator relays the decadence in human dignity thus;

I even heard them whisper that some girls were raped! Others threw themselves at camp officials, To get relief items that would sustain their families.
The women also said that in the midst of so much poverty
Big people came with so much money from Abuja.
And threw lavish wedding parties; for their children who flew into the area in their private jets.

The crux of this story of pain and loss aside the insightful commentaries on the condition of life in the North East, is the story of Hussaina's family caught unaware by the waves of unrest. Her twin brother is murdered during a terrorist raid at his boarding school, then their village is attacked and anarchy is unleashed upon her family as everyone runs for their lives in disarray."The love in my closely knit family died. Our laughter ceased!" narrates Hussaina. At that instant of commotion she loses sight of her parents, becomes stranded in the bush and is later found and taken to a refugee camp by hunters.

She narrates her odious condition at the camp and how she employs her survivalist instincts to stay alive. She narrates her experiences thus;

Life in the camp was tough!
We saw lorries of relief materials
Being brought to the camp
Yet we were always starving.
I did all sorts of things to survive
Especially sleeping with officials for favours.(21)

Hussaina reconnects with her eldest sister Uwani who is married and comes in search of her and together they return home. But what would have marked the start of a fresh beginning actually ushers in a new phase of psychological trauma. Returning home, she meets an empty compound bereft of her parents. Her father is dead and her mother suffers mental illness.

I feel used and dirty
I am no longer a beautiful flower
I am a torn petal
Left at the mercy of those
Who should protect me.(27)

The plight of the narrator in this elegiac story is a symbolic representation of the fate suffered by countless helpless and hopeless children forsaken by their motherland. She becomes pregnant after the series of sexual encounters she endured to survive at the refugee camp. Hussaina, is just a metaphor of the dehumanization that afflicts Nigeria today. Children are abused and their ambitions shattered by those who should protect them. If girls suffering from the consequences of the inactivity of their leaders are forced to have sex with camp official for relief materials provided by NGOs then who is there that will protect them? Children today are worst hit by the act of terrorism in the country; their future and academic dreams have been murdered, and their innocence stolen from them. A country that has refused to be united by her pains is shamelessly united by her politics of greed, corruption and avarice as reflected in the story. 

Ameh, through the eyes of a teenager mourns the death of a nation through the murder of her sons and daughters, fathers and wives. For it is only a dead nation that will allow her future to die. Although this story is supposedly for young readers, its morals are more befitting for adult readers especially since the children have no direct involvement in the actions that leads to the destruction of their lives and those of their families. This is entirely an adult affair that only shows the attendant negative effects it has on children. They are only but innocent children. Therefore, teenage readers might find it a bit challenging discerning the imports of this rather technical story.

The narration prides itself in the adoption of prose-poetry. It is a story written in verse form and it bears the characteristics of poetry such that the sentences are in stanza form, rhyme, exclamation marks, metaphors, rhetorical questions etc, also the book does not have chapters and enjoys a rich colour illustration that will be especially interesting to children readers. The book is simply an extended poem.

Finally, there are incongruous issues ranging from editorial oversight and technical defects in the book. For example, "Maman" is sometimes spelt as "Mamman" and one wonders if the word means the same thing as "Mama" a generic word for mother as is the case with "Baba" in the work. "She looked like Mamman". (01) There is also inconsistency in the narrative pattern of the story; Hussaina in describing her father's elegant qualities quips "He was an ideal husband." For a teenager describing her father to her fellow teenage readers the ideal description should be that "He is an ideal father" instead of husband.

The production of the book is relatively poor as the pages easily pull off thereby disintegrating the book. For a book to be owned by children who could be careless in handling things, the book could be easily destroyed because of the pages pulling off completely. 

Above all, the work is a fresh contribution to the emerging discourse on the terrorism going on in the North East, and its negative implications for the children of the region; an unfortunate situation which Ameh has invariably drawn society's attention to through this representation. This book should be in school libraries all over the country and other children need to understand the ugly conditions under which their peers elsewhere have found themselves.

Paul Liam is a poet and critic. He lives in Minna, Niger state.