By Kai EL’ Zabar
First, off the top, it is my extreme pleasure to be able to share with you the recently released book written by my friend and esteemed colleague Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika. It was only a few months ago we spoke of the upcoming release date and here it is.
I can’t begin to describe the excitement and profound sense of joy she expressed through her entire being and I knew that it had been a labor of love. For this book is in fact no less than a gift to her mother Angelina Iherjirka to whom Maudlyne owes her life and the life of her siblings.
In her skillfully written story, Escape From Nigeria, A Memoir of Faith, Love and War, you will be moved to tears, and the joy will permeate you causing an experience of pure delight. And if you are a man or woman on the fence about where you stand with God, should you allow yourself to be open to truth through another’s story you will definitely become a believer.
As a top notch journalist Maudlyne is usually telling others’ story but this time it’s her story and she does not disappoint. Written with the precision skill of the journalist she is, it at first provides all the detailed facts and dates of a series of heralding experiences. These experiences that were catastrophic posing obstacles every step of the way that the average person would have given up on. And yet we travel the journey with Angeline Ihejirika and her six children as she navigates the challenges in faith and pursuing the love that imbues her soul.
The authentic emotion expressed comes through, to move, touch and captivate you as the creative articulation of a novelist and you are riveted with the highs and lows as experienced by the characters in the story who are actual people.
The story begins in Nigeria during the Biafran war for survival that had shades of all the evil of war so it was important that Maudlyne and her mother share the story with the Nigerian community in Chicago, some of whom also have stories of great escape. So they hosted a private book release party for Chicago’s Nigerian Community attended by 250 people at the DuSable Museum on May 14th.
On Wednesday July 13 they ail host their first public book reading/signing at M Lounge, 1520 S. Wabash. Mark your calendar now and come prepared to hear Mrs. Angelina Ihejirika and Maudlyne share the telling of their Escape from Nigeria story
A Synopsis of the Book
Told by Angelina Nwachukwu Ihejirika to her daughter Maudlyne Ihejirika, a veteran, award-winning Chicago journalist, this is the story of the extraordinary circumstances. It begins . . .
June 9, 1969, a refugee family of a young mother and six children, ages one- to 10-years-old, disembarked at O’Hare Airport to a horde of TV and newspaper reporters and cameras. They were the rare arrival from the fledgling Biafran nation mired in brutal civil war after seceding from Nigeria. The story of how the family escaped the war — one marked by graphic footage of women and children of skin and bones and distended bellies, beamed into living rooms across the globe — filled articles still found today in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Daily News archives.
That refugee family included veteran Chicago Sun-Times reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika, then five years old; five siblings; and her mother, Angelina Ihejirika, here to reu-nited with their husband and father Christopher Ihejirika. Christopher was a student at Northwestern University when the horrific Nigerian Biafran war erupted, severing all communication with the outside world. And for nearly three years, neither Christopher nor Angelina knew if the other was alive or dead. It would take an Irish missionary nun to set off a chain of miracles that would lead an instructor of Christopher’s at Northwestern, his wife and four other North Shore couples, to undertake a desperate mission to locate the family and effect their escape to the U.S.
Nearly 50 years later, the Sun-Times staffer of some 25 years, award-winning journalist Maudlyne Ihejirika, shares the untold story of the courage of a woman who withstood the unimaginable to protect her six children and survive a grizzly war that ended with the starvation and massacre of at least two million Biafrans.
Her mother’s 162-page memoir, Escape From Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War (Red Sea/Africa World Press, May 2016), is Angelina’s story, based on recorded oral history, historical records, and interviews with surviving members of those five white and Jewish North Shore couples — individuals who believed one person could make a difference, and did, in the lives of an African family they had never met.
It is a tribute to the journalist’s mother — now 89 and living in the South Loop, a mother of seven, grandmother of nine and great-grandmother of one — as well as a love letter to the Americans who saved her family’s lives.
The book covers Angelina’s childhood and education in Nigeria; courtship and early married life with Christopher; how she survived vicious massacres and scavenged to feed her young children when the war broke out just after Christopher left the family to study at Forah Bay University in Sierra Leone. An Irish missionary nun would set off a chain of miracles, by helping Angelina smuggle a letter through two European countries to Sierra Leone, only to find Christopher no longer there, having accepted a scholarship to study in the U.S. after the war prevented his return home.
The letter would travel around the world, reaching Christopher in Evanston, Illinois, where five North Shore couples would begin efforts to locate the family; involve their churches and synagogues to raise money; leverage their Congressional contacts; and negotiate with the Biafran government for the family’s freedom. The book covers Angelina’s harrowing journey, as she walked alone and on foot for three days to the warfront, to secure the precious exit visas that would allow the family to leave Nigeria; and how the small family was smuggled out of the country on the last flight by Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic Charity organization, to leave Biafra.
The impact and legacy of the Nigerian Biafran War, (July 1967-January 1970) still reverberates today in Africa’s most populous nation. At the end of that three-year war, the genocide of millions of Igbos in Nigeria would rank fifth on the list of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century. A true, compelling and heartrending story, readers will gain a new context for understanding both historical and present-day Ni- geria; the current global refugee crisis triggered by the largest number of forcibly dis- placed people worldwide since World War II; and of course, the anti-immigrant, anti- refugee backlash that has been growing in American political discourse.
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