It is difficult to imagine a more thorough and significant piece of reportage, for our troubled world, than this new book, by Pulitzer-nominated journalists Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, about the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the north-east Nigerian town of Chibok by the region’s notorious Islamic militant group Boko Haram, whose very name means “western-style education is an abomination.” Based on research originally carried out for a 10,000 word Wall Street Journal report published in December 2017, Parkinson and Hinshaw’s account of the kidnapping and its long aftermath has now expanded into a book almost ten times that length, published with an impressive apparatus of notes, acknowledgments, glossary and index, and fact-checked to the gold standard of the best American journalism.
These brave secret diarists are the true heroes of this interrogation of why it took so long and so many attempts to get any results despite all the resources invested in the rescue efforts. The authors delicately record how these young women chronicled their own abduction, their captivity and trauma, the Bible verses that gave them strength and kept their hearts defiant, the phone numbers of family members, love letters to their crushes back home. They were the primary witnesses to this event that shook the world; witnesses to acts of rebellion and acts of torture. It is thus significant that this book puts these young women centre-stage in a space that has made them victims, currency for trade and a claim to fame for bounty and glory hunters.
This is the uncomfortable question that hangs over this remarkable book. By focusing so much attention, did the world — and we in the media — make them such a valuable commodity that Boko Haram would not give them up?
At the heart of the story were 219 terrified young girls. This book is the first time we have really heard from any of them. Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, veteran Africa correspondents for The Wall Street Journal, have done an incredible job reconstructing life as captives of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups.