“This powerful story shouldn’t be missed.” Publishers Weekly (starred)
“A fiercely readable, potent memoir of a survivor who refuses to be silenced. . . . An inspirational page-turner." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
An incandescent and inspiring memoir from a courageous young woman who, after she was forced to flee to Canada from her home in The Gambia, became the first woman to publicly call the country’s dictator to account for sexual assault—launching an unprecedented protest movement in West Africa.
In 2015, Toufah Jallow was a nineteen-year-old dreaming of a scholarship. Encouraged by her mother, she entered a presidential competition designed to identify and support the country’s smart young women, ands he won.
Which brought her to the attention of Yahya Jammeh, the country’s dictator, who styled himself as a pious yet progressive protector of women. At first, he behaved in a fatherly fashion towards his winner, butthen he proposed marriage. When Toufah turned him down, he drugged and raped her.
She could not tell anyone what happened. Not only was there no word for rape in her native language, if she told her parents, they would take action and incur Jammeh’s wrath. Wearing a niqab to hide her identity, she gave his security operatives the slip and fled to Senegal, eventually making her way to safety in Canada.
Then Jammeh was deposed. In July 2019, Toufah Jallow went home to testify against him in a public hearing, sparking marches of support and a social media outpouring of shared stories among West African women. Each bold decision Toufah made helped secure the future Jammeh had tried to steal from her, and also showed her a new path of leadership and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence.
In this captivating debut, Jallow, a sexual assault victim advocate, shares her harrowing account of survival while parsing the nuance of the Gambia's history, politics, and gender divide. She recounts growing up in the Gambia in a devout Muslim home where her mother was the second of her father's three wives ("by... my mid-teens, we were fifteen people all together"). At 19, she entered a state-sponsored beauty pageant, but after she won, the scholarship she was promised never materialized; instead she was groomed and raped by the Gambia's then-dictator Yahya Jammeh. Terrified that it would happen again, Jallow fled to Senegal and was eventually placed in a resettlement home in Toronto. In 2019, two years after Jammeh was voted out of office, the Gambia created a Truth Commission to contend with his horrific crimes. Incisive and controlled in her language, Jallow details the trauma and conviction that inspired her to come forward with her story at a press conference in her homeland (which, she writes, was the first time Jammeh had ever been publicly accused of rape in the country), sparking a watershed moment that led other West African women to break their long-held silences. This powerful story shouldn't be missed.