Friday, August 24, 2007

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala - Sally906's review

Review also posted here

This is my seventh book of this challenge - which is 3 more than I planned to read. I am going to say that I have met this challenge now. BUT I know me too well and am sure to read more books from this list as they become available to me. So while the pressure of "the challenge' is off - you will still get the odd review or two from now until the end of the year.

Finished: 23/08/07
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 177
Rated: A
Cover: Paperback

Opening Sentence: "...It is starting like this..."

It was very hard to read this book for a couple of reasons. Firstly I did not like the grammatical way it was written - I know what the writer was trying to do. This is the story of a young boy, who, although bright, was not well schooled - so it was written in the way such a child would speak, think and write. The second reason is the horrific content. Having said that - both of the reasons I found the book hard to read are the reasons I have given it an A.

Agu is a small boy who is forcibly, and violently coerced into joining a rebel army in an unnamed African country. Later in the book we find out that he has just seen his father killed by the same group of men. Through Agu's eyes we are given a horrific glimpse into what the life of a child soldier, with all of its responsibilities and humiliations, might possibly be like.

Soon after he joins he is told to kill or be killed. Killing will make him happy, like making love, neither concept fully understood by a young boy of nine. What he does understand in his terror, is that by doing as the Commandant demands - he may just live another day. So he does what he is told he— hacks people to death, he burns houses, shoots, rapes, maims - basically kills — without complaining.

He endures hunger, disease and the nightly sexual molestations of the Commandant, because he is simply too young to know how to get out of it. He thinks of his mother and sister, who were evacuated to safety by NATO, constantly, apologising in his mind to them for the things he does. He was brought up with Christian values, so he knows the life he is living is totally the opposite to how a Christian should live. He sobs to God that he is a really good boy, on the outside he is a doing bad things, but really inside where it counts, he is a good boy.

Agu tells us his story in a mixture of local language, biblical imagery, childish thinking and military slang; and it just breaks your heart. We see his confusion, his shame, his fear, his occasional bravado and pride, but most of all, we see his unrelenting horror.


Wendy said...

Sally, just reading your review brings this book back to me in all its vivid horror - terrible to read, and yet an amazing and incredibly written story.

Nyssaneala said...

Great review. I saw that one of Iweala's short stories has been published in the latest edition of The Paris Review. It looked quite good in the few minutes I had to glance at it.