Saturday, June 23, 2007

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
Harper Perennial; 2005
Fiction; 142 pgs

Completed: 06/22/2007
Rating: * (Outstanding)

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.


  1. ooh! This one looks good. I'll have to look for it. By the way, if you liked this, you might enjoy WHAT IS THE WHAT. I'm almost finished and it's really engrossing!

  2. I read this one last year, and it was so compelling and challenging. A great read.

  3. Wow! Glad you enjoyed this one so much.

  4. Malady - Thanks for the recommendation, Malady. I will definitely be adding Eggers book to my wishlist.

    Marg - It was very compelling--and powerful.

    Joy - I suspected I would really like it after hearing so much about it. :-) I'm glad I wasn't disappointed.

  5. I enjoyed your review and comparing your impressions to my own. I also really like the way you embellish your reviews with related information about the author or, in this case, about Sierra Leone.

  6. Wendy, I am going to pursue MBA and am searching for books on business, world economy,current business trends, infact anything to increase my business-knowledge (I have an engineering/technical background, hence I want to brush up business basics before classes start).
    Thank you! :)

  7. This is probably not a book that I would pick up on my own, but your review has me very intrigued. It sounds like a very powerful story, and I like what you said about the author weaving myth into it.

    I think I might add it to my Reading Across Borders list, as it would certainly qualify for that.

  8. This looks interesting. I enjoyed reading your review as this isn't the usual kind of book I would read.

  9. Laura - Thank you! Once I finished the book and posted my own thoughts on the book, I spent a little time over at the NYT Challenge blog and read other reviews about the book. We all seemed to have the same overall experience with the book, although in different ways. :-)

    Nymeth - It is a very powerful book and not an easy on to read in regards to subject matter. If you do decide to read it, I hope you will find it a worthwhile read. I hesitate to say "enjoy" because I'm not sure it's that type of book. :-)

    Rhinoa - Thanks! I don't think this is a book for everyone, but I think it's worth reading if you are willing to take the chance on it.

  10. Wow, I haven't heard of this one, but now I'm intrigued! Lovely review!

  11. Thank you, Andi. I hope you like it if you do decide to read it.

  12. Oh...this one looks so good!! I've got it on my list to read! thanks!


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