"Born on a Tuesday" by Elnathan John: A review by Chika Unigwe

The Durbar festival in Sokoto, Nigeria, an annual event that that features prayers, music players and a military parade. Photograph: Saurabh Das/AP

At the centre of Elnathan John’s insightful debut novel about religious extremism in Nigeria is its eponymous protagonist, Dantala, whose name translates as Born on a Tuesday. Dantala is sent away by his father to attend Qur’anic school. He falls in with a group of street boys; when they are hired by a political party to burn the headquarters of an opposition party, the police get involved and Dantala must flee to save his life. He ends up in Sokoto State, where an imam called Sheikh Jamal takes him under his wing. Here he finds some stability and becomes friends with Jibril, who teaches him English, a language that “sounds soft and easy like one does not need to open one’s mouth a lot or use a lot of air or energy” – unlike Arabic, where “one uses everything, the neck, the jaws, the tongue”.

Read more: Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John review – a compelling debut set in northern Nigeria | Books | The Guardian