I came across this one by happenstance. The college I went to offered some sort of class on child soldiers or the psychology behind it or something, but I remember being in my school book store where the cashiers gladly smile as they take your money and bend you over ramming a large object into you backside over and over again. Honestly I do not know how schools get away with charging what they do for books, only to tell you at the end of the semester that the $200 book you bought 3 months ago is now obsolete and worthless. I digress, but the point is that while I was in there I saw a book called A Long Way Gone by Ishmeal Beah. Curious, as it had nothing to do with my current classes I bought it and read it. From that point on I was sort of enthralled with the story as well as the travesty that is child soldiers. Sometime later I was in a book store and I just happened to stumble upon Beasts of No Nation. The title and the cover sold me and when I read that it was about child soldiers I knew I had to read it. For the most part I had nearly forgotten about this one until one day recently when I was poking around on the internet and saw that it was being made into a movie starring one of my favorite new actors Idris Elba.
Uzodinma Iweala was born in Washington DC, where he currently lives, to Nigerian parents. He is a graduate of Harvard where he received a degree in English and American Literature and he also received a degree from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. So he is a writer and a doctor, that is pretty amazing. There is not a ton of information out there on Iweala, this is if first novel. I may be wrong but I also think it might be his only novel, but he did write another book, nonfiction, about the AIDS crisis in Africa called Our Kind of People, which I have not read. He has won many awards and accolades for this book including Young Lions Fiction Award. The book has also received much praise from RollingStone, Time, and NYT among many others.
This story follows a young boy named Agu whose village is attacked by rebels and his father is killed before his eyes. The rest of the story follows the young boy as he quickly loses his childhood when he is forced to commit many heinous crimes one after the other while serving as a soldier in an army of rebels as they rape and pillage across the countryside.
This is a very different novel to review for so many reasons, the main one being the subject matter is very controversial. I will admit that it is a tough read because of that, and following the emotional train wreck that is Agu’s life is very difficult to deal with. Despite this aspect the novel itself is not very long so most readers should be able to fly through the book, it is also written in a sort of broken English that gives a more realistic aspect to the story that would be similar to someone who is from Africa would speak.
As I said the story is very disturbing, and is up there with one of the most disturbing I have read. The crown goes to American Psycho, but that is another review for another day. The thing that really hits home while reading is that you have to watch a young innocent boy grow up over night and do unspeakable evil things. No child should ever be put into that position yet it is still going on in many parts of the world, but seems to be very common in many war torn African countries.
For me one of the saddest things in the book was the loss of Agu’s childhood. Yes there a million things that are very disturbing that happened to him in the book, but not being able to have a childhood is irreplaceable. Group therapy and working with doctors and psychologist can help an individual deal with the evil things he was made to do, but nothing can replace the time he lost, that to me a travesty.
At the end of the book there is an essay where the author tells a little more about himself and it I think that is always interesting, and he explains what compelled him to write the book. As you know I always fin the story behind the story just as, if not more interesting, than the actual story itself. Iweala says that one day after a run he come home to go through his mail and saw an issue of Newsweek with a picture of a child soldier on the front. He read and reread the article and decided to start writing the story. From there he spent the next four years interviewing and speaking to many child soldiers from all over the world. He also says that while the story is set in West Africa that it is a story for every child soldier not just the ones in Africa. He also talks about his upbringing and how he was introduced to so many different cultures that helped him grow and basically be his own person. There is one thing that really stuck out to me and he said, “That if I can write a book anyone can.” It is always nice to read some encouraging words even if they are very general.
I did like this book and I highly recommend it. It is a quick read that will move you emotionally and drive you to anger. It is a very up and down story that will have you riding the peaks and valleys of the emotional roller coaster. This book is mostly under the radar as I have not heard anything about it since I read it over six years ago. The copy I purchased was actually the first edition so that is pretty cool. I did not realize when I read it how many awards it had won and how famous it was, so that was a neat surprise. Although on the cover there is in big letters “A Best Book of the Year,” but silly me seemed never to see that. O well, now we know. You should check this one out it is a good but upsetting read.