Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
Harper Perennial; 2005
Fiction; 142 pgs
First Sentence: It is starting like this.
Reason for Reading: After reading Wendy's (Caribousmom) review of Beasts of No Nation, I was instantly intrigued. This is my fourth selection for the New York Times Notable Book Challenge.
Comments: Uzodinma Iweala first came upon the idea of writing a story about a child soldier after seeing an article in Newsweek. He wanted to get inside the mind of a child soldier and understand what the child goes through. Eventually, after careful research and drawing from his own background, Beasts of No Nation was created.
This novel may seem small in size, however, its content is quite powerful. Beasts of No Nation is the story of a young boy in western Africa whose mother and sister have fled from their village with the war’s approach and who witnesses his own father’s murder. Agu is discovered hiding by a young boy soldier and soon finds himself fighting among the guerrilla fighters in a civil war. He is awed by the commandant’s posture and strength. The commandant can be gentle and kind, ruthless and brutal. Throughout his training and the fighting, Agu remembers his past, his relatively simple life. He loved school and books, he liked playing with his best friend, and dreamt of being an engineer or a doctor someday. His new life was vicious and hard.
Uzodinma Iweala captures the voice of his young narrator, creating a story that is both raw and authentic. The child’s fear and anguish can be felt on every page. I had no difficulty being pulled into the rhythm of the narrative and dialogue and it turned into a surprisingly fast book to read even with the unique nuances in the writing style. However, the subject matter itself was quite disturbing in parts; the experiences Agu had to live through are the kind no human being, much less a child should have to experience.
Favorite Part: The author did a wonderful job at giving his character Agu a voice. Several times throughout the book I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around Agu and save him from the hard life he had to live. I was grateful he and Strika had each other. I think their friendship got them both through the most difficult moments.
I also liked the way the author weaved myth and fable into the novel, specifically the story about the leopard and the ox and then the story of the greedy cloth seller. Such tales offered an insight into the events taking place in Agu’s life, part of which he may or may not have fully understood.
Note about the Author: Here is an interview with the author.
Miscellaneous: I read an article earlier in the week about three Sierra Leonean military leaders being convicted of a variety of crimes, including conscripting child soldiers. This could have a major impact on future cases involving similar charges, something that is long overdue.