Monday, March 5, 2007

Beasts of No Nation - Book Review by Wendy

Original review posted on my blog here.

So I am joining. Just like that. I am a soldier.

- From Beasts of No Nation, page 11 -

Uzodinma Iweala set out to tell a universal story about terrible violence and brutality. It is a story, set in an unnamed African nation, about a child soldier named Agu who is recruited by a ruthless commandant The novel unfolds through Agu's unique voice, which is at once both foreign and difficult to understand as it is poetic.

"His language is a construct, loosely based on Pidgin English, inspired by voices of ordinary Nigerians, and of course by such writers as Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chinua Achebe, and Amos Tutuola." - Uzodinma Iweala, 2005 -

I must admit to some ambivalence around Agu's voice. Initially, I was put off by the lilting choppiness of it - but as I read, it took on a lyrical and rhythmic quality that seemed to suit the subject matter. There are times when the reader feels almost as if she is watching a dream unfold.

The novel flows from past to present to a boy's fantasies of an uncertain future. It gives the reader glimpses into Agu's life before war came to his tiny village, and then reveals the numbing and harsh realities of his present life. Agu's friend, Strika, is equally haunting though we hear his voice only once. When Agu sees Strika drawing a picture in the dirt of a man and woman with no head he begins to understand his friend's silence.

His picture is telling me that he is not making one noise since they are killing his parent.
From Beasts of No Nation, page 36 -

Beasts of No Nation is a devastating novel about a boy's shattered life. It is a demanding book which although slim, packs a huge punch. Sorrowful and stunning in its simple narration - this book will weigh heavily on the reader's heart.

Passages from the Novel:

My thinking is like the road, going on and on, and on and on, until it is taking me so far far away from this place. Sometimes I am thinking of my life far far ahead and sometimes I am thinking of all the life I am leaving behind. - From Beasts of No Nation, page 93 -

...but I am knowing now that to be a soldier is only to be weak and not strong, and to have no food to eat and not to eat whatever you want, and also to have people making you do thing that you are not wanting to do and not to be doing whatever you are wanting which is what they are doing in movie. - From Beasts of No Nation, page 31 -


kookiejar said...

I read this one months ago, so I don't remember all the details, but I think you hit upon all the reasons I didn't really care for it. It was so utterly depressing, even the dreamlike quality couldn't remove me from the harsh reality of the main character's life and future. While I was reading it, I wanted nothing more than to shake myself loose of it, and leave it behind.

Nice job on the review.

Wendy said...

*nods* I struggled with this one, Michelle. Part of me wanted to honor the writing and the story which I think needs to be told; but the other part of me felt just like you did. I don't think this book will appeal to a lot of people (I rated it a 3.75 after a lot of thought). It was completely depressing. For such a short book, I almost put it down several times thinking I couldn't finish it. I'm glad I read it; but I wouldn't recommend it to a lot of people.

Stephanie said...

Nice Review Wendy! I don't have this one on my list...and I think I will have to pass. Gotta say, I don't need any more depressing reads for awhile!

kookiejar said...

I hope negative (or impartial reviews) won't discourage too many people from trying these novels. Art is subjective. Many, many people loved this book and others on the list that I didn't really like. The story is one that needs to be told, I just think this wasn't the right way for me to read it.

Wendy said...

Certainly one person's ice cream is another person's brussel sprouts (do you like that original! Guess which one is my favorite!?!?). Anyway, I usually give books a try unless ALL the reviews are bad. This particular book was not a book I hated. In fact, I really wavered on how to rate it because despite its depressing nature, I thought it was actually a pretty well written, original book. I think it *does* deserve to be recognized as a notable book. That said, I also think that a lot of people will not be putting it on their favorite book of the year was just so INTENSE.

kookiejar said...

Not that it matters, but I love ice cream and brussel sprouts. :) But, yeah, I don't think anyone in their right minds would call this their favorite book, but it was well written and important.

Wendy said...

For those of you who have read Half of A Yellow Sun and plan to read Beasts of No Nation, I encourage you to go to Loose Baggy Monster's blog (Sarah) and read her full review of Half of a Yellow Sun. She makes wonderful observations about Ugwa as a child soldier which I think are interestingly connected in many ways to Beasts of No Nation. The two writing styles are dramatically different and yet the comparisons are interesting. I would say Beasts of No Nation gives the reader a more intimate view of the child soldier (which is why it is so disturbing).