Fiction for Young Adults

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Lema, Elieshi



Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: E & D Limited, 1998, 2004. 72 p.

ISBN 9987-622-03-8. Ages 10 and up.

This is the story of a primary school girl, Felicia, who has just reached puberty, and she does not know how to handle the sudden change in her body. While her school is reluctant to educate her about entering womanhood, she has to confront her culture’s initiation rites for girls. Felicia is disturbed by stories about female circumcision, especially that some young girls have bled to death in the process of being “prepared to become women.” It is with this anxiety and confusion that she is taken into unyago (seclusion).  

Her aunt, Helena Magreta, a freedom fighter in the Mozambican war of liberation, does not believe in the outdated practices of mutilating a girl’s body as a rite of passage. She considers such practices “cowardice of the highest order” that are believed only by those “who hate life and love darkness.” Magreta is an enlightened and liberated village woman who believes that initiation into adulthood is a process of learning how to live meaningfully as a woman and a human being. In the few weeks that Felicia is secluded, she and other elderly women give her vital lessons on how to take care of herself with dignity.

Felicia’s experience serves as a turning point for the entire school, and the authorities admit that they have a role in educating pupils – both boys and girls – to understand what it means to enter young adulthood. The major lesson for girls is not to feel ashamed of the physiological changes, but to see them as part of growing up.

Like Elieshi Lema’s other works, such as the novel Parched Earth (2001) and various short stories, this novel is distinctive because of its sensitive treatment of the girl/woman question in East African literature. It narrates a young girl’s journey through the rituals of growing up in a society that is highly patriarchal and prejudicial toward women. The story grapples with the question of how Felicia should negotiate these life processes in order to emerge as a fulfilled woman who can contribute to her society’s well being and, as a result, change its skewed perception of women. Both young readers and adults will find the story highly enlightening.

Fiction for Young Adults


E & D Limited