Speechless by Anne Simpson

In Anne Simpson’s gripping third novel, Speechless, A’isha Nasir, a Nigerian teenager, has been convicted of adultery and, in keeping with Sharia, or Islamic Law, been sentenced to death by stoning.  

But A’isha’s situation is neither simple nor straightforward. Raped by a man in her village, the fact that she has had a child out of wedlock is the only tangible evidence against her. After giving birth to her daughter, Safiya, A’isha was hauled by an angry mob to the police station, where the terrified young woman was badgered into making a confession. A’isha’s conviction is being appealed, but in the meantime, her story has captured the attention of the media.  

Enter Sophie MacNeil, a young reporter from Canada working for a national publication, The Daily Leader who, with the best of intentions and driven to make a difference, travels from Lagos to A’isha’s village in Nigeria’s Muslim dominated north to interview her. But Sophie faces accusations of ignorance and insensitivity when her article about the case—which questions the fairness of a process that condemns a rape survivor to death while doing nothing to the man who assaulted her—triggers a firestorm of protests, rioting and violent confrontations among Muslims and Christians. Then, as the story is picked up internationally, Sophie’s life comes under threat when a fatwa is issued against her.  

“In Speechless, Anne Simpson has written a poignant and suspenseful human drama, one that raises provocative questions of race, colonialism, justice, gender and religion.”

ian colford

Events spiral further out of control in the novel’s middle third when Sophie’s boyfriend, Felix, is unsuccessful in his attempt to sneak her across the border into Benin and then is injured in the rioting. Clare, Sophie’s mother, also finds herself in grave danger when her attempt to connect with her daughter goes seriously awry.

In Speechless, Anne Simpson has written a poignant and suspenseful human drama, one that raises provocative questions of race, colonialism, justice, gender and religion. Sophie MacNeil stands in for any number of well-intentioned but naïve and blundering Westerners who, assuming they know better, have caused irreparable damage by meddling in another country’s affairs: in this case critiquing a former colony’s traditional code of justice by which people have lived for hundreds of years. Sophie gives A’isha a voice, but at what cost? Anne Simpson, a consummate artist, navigates this complex, heart-rending drama smoothly and persuasively. Writing from multiple points of view, she allows her characters to speak for themselves, and, though her sympathies are clear, her firm grasp of the material allows her to avoid making obvious or heavy-handed pronouncements about right and wrong. The writing is lush, atmospheric and often comes spectacularly alive with poetic detail. Speechless is an enormously satisfying novel that resonates with truth as it draws the reader into a world of clashing moral values where, since reconciliation seems impossible, the best we can hope for is dialogue and understanding.

See also  Shapers of Worlds Volume II Edited by Edward Willett

  • ISBN-10: 1988298628
  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-1988298627
  • Product Dimensions: 13.97 x 2.41 x 21.59 cm
  • Publisher: Freehand Books (May 2, 2020)

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Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in Event, Grain, Riddle Fence, The Antigonish Review, The Fiddlehead and other literary publications. His previous books are Evidence, The Crimes of Hector Tomás, Perfect World and A Dark House and Other Stories. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Relit Award, the Journey Prize, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. He lives in Halifax.

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