Synopsis from Hachette Book Group:
An inspirational story of one girl who changed the minds of her elders, reformed traditions from the inside, and is creating a better future for girls and women throughout Africa
Nice Leng`ete was raised in a Maasai village in Kenya. In 1998, when Nice was six, her parents fell sick and died, and Nice and her sister Soila were taken in by their father’s brother, who had little interest in the girls beyond what their dowries might fetch. Fearing “the cut” (female genital mutilation, a painful and sometimes deadly ritualistic surgery), which was the fate of all Maasai women, Nice and Soila climbed a tree to hide.
Nice hoped to find a way to avoid the cut forever, but Soila understood it would be impossible. But maybe if one of the sisters submitted, the other would be spared. After Soila chose to undergo the surgery, sacrificing herself to save Nice, their lives diverged. Soila married, dropped out of school, and had children – all in her teenage years – while Nice postponed receiving the cut, continued her education, and became the first in her family to attend college.
Supported by Amref, Nice used visits home to set an example for what an uncut Maasai woman can achieve. Other women listened, and the elders finally saw the value of intact, educated girls as the way of the future. The village has since ended FGM entirely, and Nice continues the fight to end FGM throughout Africa, and the world.
Nice’s journey from “heartbroken child and community outcast, to leader of the Maasai” is an inspiration and a reminder that one person can change the world – and every girl is worth saving.
About: The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree is an African nonfiction memoir written by Nice Leng’ete with Elizabeth Butler-Witter. It was recently published on 9/14/2021 by Little, Brown and Company, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, hardcover, 240 pages. The genres are nonfiction, Africa, and memoir. According to the publisher’s website, “Our Vision: To be the #1 destination for authors, agents, customers, client publishers, and employees. To be a respected publisher that values diversity, nurtures talent, rewards success, and honors its responsibilities. To be market focused in all we do, and to lead change in popular culture. To anticipate change, foster creativity, and encourage risk-taking and innovation.” Please see below for more information about the author and publisher.
My Experience: I started reading The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree on 10/22/2021 and finished it on 10/24/2021. A fantastic read, this autobiography gave me a glimpse into foreign cultures and traditions I was not expecting to learn. Especially what Maasai boys and girls went through, the young boys and girls around 12 years olds are getting circumcised without anesthesia to be considered men and women. The age-mates’ rules for sharing wives was an unexpected surprise. As I read, I googled Maasai houses to see how they looked like. It’s interesting that the women were the ones to build the houses which were made of dung and mud. Won’t that be stinky? I loved learning the hospitality of the Maasai people. I enjoyed reading the tales within this book. I cringed when I read the process of the cut. Ouch! The story behind it was a severed form of punishment. Child abuse always make me sad and so sad that in other parts of the country, kids were made to work so hard that they could forfeit their childhood and even their life. Growing up in rural villages but have the desire for higher education is one of a kind and I admire Nice and other girls for having that interest, especially at a young age. That’s awesome that the author was invited to give a TED Talks. I need to watch it.
This book started with an introduction to the author and her names. Then the story began where Nice grew up, a Maasai Village near Kenya and Tanzania with the view of Mount Kilimanjaro. The small town was dry with dust everywhere and their homes were small with just the beds made of stretched cowhide for furniture. She has an older brother Kevin, sister named Soila who was 3 years older than her and a younger brother. Young Maasai children were required to have their cheeks tattooed with a heated metal circle. To be considered men and women, pre-teen boys and girls were required to be circumcised. The girls were to endured the cut of her clitoris, a tradition that was passed down from generations before. The story was that the clit makes women lustful and bad decisions were made through the feelings of lust; therefore the cut was practiced to keep women loyal. However, if girls refused to undergo the cut, they will be outcast, their family shamed, they won’t be considered adults and couldn’t get married. There were color pictures of the author’s family and relatives within this book. The author told her story starting 4 years old.
The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree was well written and unputdownable. The story pulled me in and kept me continue reading and turning the pages. I was fascinated by the different traditions of the Maasai people. The story of girls couldn’t say no to men was a vulnerable one because then girls were being taken advantage of sexually, possibly her mother who got married when pregnant with someone else’s kid. I admire Nice’s mom for her strength to carry so much: water on her head and arms and a baby on her back. Life sounded so tough in a small village and I knew of it because I have lived in one before when I was younger, though Africa sounded way poorer than mine. An inspirational read. I admire the author’s dad, having very little education but knew how to think to make a difference and made changes to the way of life, changing for the better of the Maasai people. Reading about Nice and the challenges she faced was inspiring. It helped that her grandfather had power, but mostly, she was persistent in her missions and it paid off. Even when she was outcast for her defiance of the cut, she didn’t care what people think and kept coming back to her hometown to help others. When Nice failed at her mission, she tried different tactics until she accomplished what she set out to do. Definitely amazing. I highly recommend everyone to read this book!
I rate it 5 stars!
About the Authors:
Kenyan human rights activist Nice Leng’ete is from Kimana, Kenya. When she was eight years old, she defied cultural convention and fled from female genital cutting. Nice managed to become the first woman in Masai history to be bestowed with the Black Talking Stick, known as “esiere.” The stick is a symbol of leadership and allows Nice to engage in conversations with men and the elders, a right usually denied to Masai girls.
Nice advocates to end female genital mutilation and replace it with alternative rites of passage. Through her work with Amref Health Africa, she has helped save an estimated 15,000 girls from the cut and forced childhood marriages.
Nice created Nice Place Foundation, a leadership training academy and rescue centre. The Foundation is a sanctuary for girls at risk for circumcision and early marriage, a place for them to realize their full potential. (Photo obtained from the author’s Instagram account and Info obtained from Hachette’s website).
More Information about Little, Brown and Company
***Disclaimer: Many thanks to Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity to read and review. Please be assured that my opinions are honest.