Monday, December 19, 2005

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

For a book of less than 150 pages, Beasts of No Nation really packs quite a punch, yet it is a very simply told story.

Agu is a young boy who lives in an unnamed West African country torn apart by civil war. His village is massacred, including his father, but Uga survives. He is found by another boy solder and taken to the Commandant who gives him a choice - stay and fight or die. We never find out anything about what the civil war is about, or what any of the other soldier's motivation for fighting is, only that they are fighting against the government troops.

The book from that point on is about Agu dealing with what he has become and what he has to do in order to stop the sadistic Commandant from beating him or worse. His only friend is Strika, a fellow boy soldier who has not said a word since his own parents were brutally murdered. Agu's descent from a good church boy into a killer is tracked through his own thoughts as he tries to justify what he has been forced to do to survive.

"I am not bad boy. I am not bad boy. I am soldier and soldier is not bad if he is killing. I am telling this to myself because soldier is supposed to be killing, killing, killing. So if I am killing, then I am only doing what is right." (Page 23)

"All we are knowing is that, before the war we are children and now we are not." (Page 36)

The viewpoint of Agu is strengthened by the voice in which the novel is told, using a West African tinged English that feels authentic. Whilst it takes a couple of pages to get used to the language, it certainly strengthens the book, not diminishes it.

This is a book that I will still be thinking about in days to come.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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