I knew I had to review this book from the very first moment it came to my attention. Those of you familiar with my blog will know by now that I often post reviews that deal with some of the darker subjects in life and Driving the Birds is no exception. Its cover states that it is the story of Jabonkah Sackey – A bush girl’s escape from her heartless father, ritual mutilation, and mission slavery. The back of the book describes it as an uplifting true story of one woman’s courageous journey from a small village in Liberia to the freedom that America offers and speaks of Jabonkahs charm, determination and unique world view. I couldn't wait to meet her.
It didn't take long at all to fall in love with this sweet young girl, and simultaneously grow to despise her father. As she shares experiences it’s impossible not to feel her pain though admittedly I know that this book touched me a little deeper due to triggering some of my own abuse memories so I have to state that this book can be somewhat triggering. I also frequently found myself enraged and/or frustrated as well as utterly amazed that this girl could be subject to this much pain and trauma yet still have such determination and faith. It cannot have been easy for Jabonkah to share this story and I am eternally thankful that she used the same courage and determination that kept her alive, to speak out in order to bring more awareness to the issues shared within the pages.
There is much about her story that left me feeling stunned to the point where I had to remind myself to breathe. It’s enough that she had to deal with witnessing the frequent and brutal beatings of her mother, and at times face equally brutal beatings herself but when an act leads to her being sent away to ‘the Society’ which she knows very little about, she faces an experience that I could not have predicted in my wildest imagination. I could only read on, horrified to the point of being overcome by the fear she must have felt, and learn about the female genital mutilation that so many girls are exposed to. I hadn’t been aware that this occurs but I will certainly be trying to bring awareness to it as well as to the issue of mission slavery.
Truth be told, I don’t know which I was more disturbed by; the violence and attempted destruction of anything positive in this beautiful young soul by her father and ultimately his abandonment of her or the treatment of her at the hands of a missionary by the name of Mother Stevens. Time and again I hoped that things were to improve for Jabonkah, only to find her facing further and often far more tragic situations. When I reached the end of the book I felt a mixture of things. Conflict that originates from trying to stay open minded about other cultures and their differences but that in this case was overshadowed by my desire to protect this young girl in a way that I wish someone had done. In addition I experienced a sense of being well and truly emotionally and mentally spent after reading such an incredibly challenging life story. Mostly, I was left with a sense of hope (with some trepidation) that Jabonkah would finally find someone who could shower her with the love she deserved, and who would cherish her for the truly inspirational soul that she is.
My only negative to this book, is that I would have liked to have learned a little more about her life in America. A reassurance I guess that she was finally safe. I know that the existence of this book so many years on means that clearly something good happened but I’d love to hear more.
This book is so many things including brilliant, enlightening, challenging, heartbreaking, and yes, as stated on the back of the book, uplifting. What it is above all that, is a book that only exists due to the sheer determination and courage of a survivor. It’s a book that gives us hope that if enough awareness is raised, maybe changes can be made and fewer lives can be damaged.
I encourage you to read this book and to learn more about the global issues that we don’t always hear about. It’s only when enough people become determined to make things change, that the change can occur. As I’ve stated often, it’s a challenging read, but it’s ultimately rewarding and I wanted to ensure this review was prepared for today which is not just Valentine’s Day, but also a hugely important day for women around the world as it is the day where they are uniting to bring awareness to the One Billion Rising campaign which aims to end violence towards women.
You can learn more about FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) at http://safeworldcommunity.net/group/fgm