An adolescent girl defies the cultural standards of her village by escaping from an arranged marriage to a much older man and pursuing an education in this uplifting novel by Gambian author Sally Sadie Singhateh. Nyima, the protagonist of The Sun Will Soon Shine, excels as a student and dreams of attending high school in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, only to find out from her widowed mother that shortly after her birth, her father had negotiated for her to become the fourth wife of a prominent man in their village. Nyima is forced to undergo female genital mutilation in order to satisfy her husband. She, then, fails to get pregnant and is subjected to spurious treatments at the hands of various witchdoctors which are unsuccessful. Her husband rejects her due to her failure to conceive and she becomes isolated and depressed.
Nyima’s grim prospects for her future change abruptly when her cousin, Jainaba, pays a visit to the village. Jainaba, who lives with her husband and daughter in Banjul, is educated and has become a successful lawyer. She is horrified to learn that her gifted cousin has been forced to abandon her studies in order to submit to an arranged marriage. She offers Nyima the opportunity to live with her and resume her education, telling Nyima’s husband that she will take legal action against him if he tries to prevent her from leaving. Nyima perseveres in her academic pursuits and enjoys the relatively high standard of living that Jainaba is able to provide for her in the city. Jainaba’s daughter is absent from the household because she attends a boarding school in the United States, but Nyima makes friends with the family’s housekeeper, Sibi, and Araba, one of her classmates. In a particularly affecting scene, the two girls check out books from the library to gain a better understanding of what female circumcision is and its adverse health effects. “It was very embarrassing being watched by the librarian but we needed to know what had been done to us.” Thus, the two young women utilize the resources their education provides them with to gain knowledge about a custom that has harmed and disempowered them.
When Jainaba moves overseas for a year to work for United Nations Peace, she leaves Nyima in the care of her husband, Gibou. Nyima is wary of Gibou. “My encounters with men had left me petrified of them. Along with the fright was a burning loathing.” Unfortunately, Nyima’s suspicions about Gibou prove to be true as he begins to sexually abuse her in Jainaba’s absence. He convinces Nyima that ‘“[…Jainaba] won’t believe anything you tell her…”’ to ensure that she will keep his predatory behavior a secret. Unsure where to flee and knowing that doing so will mean giving up her education again, Nyima tolerates being raped and becomes pregnant—a cruel irony considering that she was presumed to be infertile during her marriage. Nyima confesses her pregnancy to her cousin but refuses to reveal the identity of the man who impregnated her, implying that she became romantically involved with someone voluntarily. Unable to conceal her sense of being betrayed and let down, Jainaba nevertheless agrees to help Nyima, arranging for her to meet with an obstetrician for prenatal care. A mere few weeks before she is supposed to deliver her baby, Nyima suffers a life-threatening medical complication and her child does not survive. Nyima finds that she is ambivalent about her stillborn baby, “…there was a tiny part of my heart that was full of love for it. I tried to hate it because it was Gibou’s, but I could not.” In the aftermath of this harrowing situation, Gibou refrains from abusing Nyima.
Unable to be deterred from achieving her goals, Nyima returns to high school, which she had withdrawn from due to her pregnancy. When she graduates, she decides to attend college in Strasbourg, France. Nyima savors the experience of living in Europe, meanwhile she continues to succeed academically and makes new friends. She even meets a man whom she thinks she might be capable of falling in love with—an experience she regards with great trepidation. After Nyima finishes college, Jainaba and her daughter visit her in France and Jainaba reveals that she has learned the truth about what her husband did to Nyima and is in the process of divorcing him. She expresses remorse for putting Nyima in harm’s way and not being more skeptical of the circumstances surrounding her mysterious pregnancy.
Nyima returns to the Gambia and works for the television station run by the state, living with Jainaba until she saves enough money to buy her own house. She then returns to her old village to visit her mother, offering her the opportunity to live with her in Banjul. However, her mother declines, ‘“I was born in this village, child, and I would prefer to die here.”’ Nyima continues to make her career the primary focus of her life. She coincidentally crosses paths with Mohisse Camara—the Burkinabe medical researcher whom she found herself attracted to in college. Mohisse eventually takes a research position in the Gambia and proposes to Nyima. Nyima is overjoyed, “I never imagined I could feel such emotions as the ones I was experiencing then. It was like a dream, one I had never had before.” Having a child with Mohisse is a struggle for Nyima both physically and psychologically, even though she is finally in a positive situation to nurture a young life. She is reluctant to seek modern fertility treatments from an obstetrician in France, comparing them to the indignities done to her by the witchdoctors when she was a child bride. Ultimately, she agrees to see the fertility expert, succeeds in getting pregnant, and gives birth to a daughter.
In The Sun Will Soon Shine, Singhateh crafts a central character who possesses the fortitude to navigate the myriad of obstacles that get in the way of her aspirations, but is sensitive enough to be likeable and relatable. The novel opens poignantly with Nyima watching Muna, her young daughter, struggling to learn how to read, which serves as the framework for Nyima to reflect on her own formative years. At a mere one hundred pages, the novel thoughtfully explores many diverse issues relevant to the lives of African girls and women, including female genital mutilation, child marriage, the struggle to overcome trauma, and the pursuit of education, testifying to Sally Singhateh’s skill as a writer and the strength of the story being told.