Carnegie Medal winner, 2000
Sade lives in Nigeria with her mother, her brother Femi and her father. Her father is a journalist publishing truths the military dictatorship would prefer were not known. One morning as Sade packs her books into her backpack while her mother waits outside to drive her to school, Sade hears gunshots. Her mother has been shot dead by soldiers, with bullets intended for her father. A decision is made that Sade and her brother will leave Nigeria immediately and go to London to stay with their uncle. Their father will follow as soon as possible. Sade and Femi leave Nigeria under assumed names and enter Great Britain under those names. When they arrive, their uncle is nowhere to be found and the woman who smuggled them into the country leaves them on their own. They enter the foster care system in London, using their own first names but their mother’s maiden name as their last name. Sade believes it is safer both for herself and her brother and for their father if their real last names are not known.
The politics of the Nigerian police state figure prominently in the first part of the book. After that, the focus shifts to the politics of being a political refugee seeking asylum in England. Sade has difficulty with bullies at her school in London. This echoes the bullying of the Nigerian government and perhaps makes that government bullying easier for middle grade students to understand. The English government does some bullying of its own towards the end of the book, and Sade figures out how to let people know what the government is doing so it will stop. She has learned the importance of publicizing from her father.
The book is fiction, but it is not far off from events in Nigeria. In 1995 Ken Saro-Wiwa, a journalist and activist critical of the Nigerian government, was hanged by the government. His activities and his fate are mentioned multiple times in the book.
Sade experiences horrors in this novel. I had a hard time feeling the horrors. Sade’s emotional life seems distant to me. I think this is because it’s told more than shown. But it may be because Sade must keep her emotional life distant from herself in order to survive.
The Other Side of Truth is an excellent way to learn about the political life of Nigeria in the 1990s and about the life of a political refugee in London.