‘Modern Girls’ by Teju Cole

Modern Girls by Teju Cole, 2013

The magic trick:

Mixing issues of war and class divide into a story about high school

Cole brings us to war-torn Nigeria today, but this isn’t a war story. It’s a story about young teenaged girls. They’re trying to figure out the mysterious social laws that govern their country but mostly the ones that shape life at their school.

OK, but this isn’t merely a school-daze story with war in the backdrop. The war comes to the forefront of the story in the way the plot turns toward the macabre when the girls feed into prejudices and hatred of what they define as the other. The different subjects don’t stay in nice, clean boxes. They spill into each other, just like life. And that’s quite a trick on Cole’s part.

The selection:

Naturally, we made no mention of her Islamic faith. The word ‘witch’ remained unsaid. We said only that, whatever she had done, we were certain she had done for a good reason. And that her adversary, whomever it was, probably deserved it. Nuratu, as the full implication of our story dawned on her, looked as if she had been stabbed. She slowly sank to the floor, and began to weep and shake her head.

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