Beasts of no nation A novel

Uzodinma Iweala

Book - 2015

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War stories
New York : Harper Perennial [2015]
Physical Description
xii, 142, 14 pages ; 21 cm
Main Author
Uzodinma Iweala (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ "I am not bad boy. I am not bad boy. I am soldier and soldier is not bad if he is killing." Set in an unnamed West African country, Iweala's first novel shows civil war from a child's viewpoint. After his mother and sister escape and his father is killed, the traumatized young narrator is discovered by guerrilla fighters. Frightened and alone, he joins the men, becoming a soldier in an impoverished army of terror headed by a charismatic and treacherous leader who tells his young followers that killing "is like falling in love. You cannot be thinking about it." Writing in the boy's West African English, Iweala distills his story to the most urgent and visceral atrocities, and the scenes of bloodshed and rape are made more excruciating by the lyrical, rhythmic language. In the narrator's memories of village life, biblical stories, and creation myths, Iweala explores the mutable separation between human and beast and a child's struggle to rediscover his own humanity after war: "I am some sort of beast or devil," the boy says, "But I am also having mother once, and she is loving me." Readers will come away feeling shattered by this haunting, original story. ((Reviewed September 1, 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Educated at Harvard, where his writing won a number of prizes, the Nigerian-born Iweala breaks our hearts with the story (all too realistic) of a child soldier in Africa. One of HarperCollins's top picks for the fall. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Have you ever wondered how children become enlisted as soldiers, and men become desensitized to slaughter? Iweala's aptly titled debut takes us into the belly of the beast from the perspective of the school-aged Agu. Separated from his family when a civil war erupts, he is taken captive and adopted as a soldier by a band of lawless men and boys. It could be anywhere and anytime in Africa, when desperation, fear, and hatred fuel bloodshed and inhumanity. Agu is cajoled into his first killing, with his commandant telling him it is like falling in love: "You are just having to doing it, he is saying." The soldiers are told to view their enemies as dogs or goats, as meat. With hunger and confusion propelling him, Agu gets a taste for killing--a taste that galls him in the moments when he lets his guard down. The terror that Agu witnesses and engages in is told in his simple, declarative voice that makes the violence all the more senseless and immediate. This slim, harrowing account of the intoxication of violence and how quickly it can escalate is a cautionary tale that offers no easy answers or explanations. Recommended for public and YA libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/05; see also "Fall Editors' Picks," p. 40-44.]--Misha Stone, Seattle P.L. [Page 131]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Iweala's visceral debut is unrelenting in its brutality and unremitting in its intensity. Agu, the precocious, gentle son of a village schoolteacher father and a Bible-reading mother, is dragooned into an unnamed West African nation's mad civil war--a slip of a boy forced, almost overnight, to shoulder a soldier's bloody burden. The preteen protagonist is molded into a fighting man by his demented guerrilla leader and, after witnessing his father's savage slaying, by an inchoate need to belong to some kind of family, no matter how depraved. He becomes a killer, gripped by a muddled sense of revenge as he butchers a mother and daughter when his ragtag unit raids a defenseless village; starved for both food and affection, he is sodomized by his commandant and rewarded with extra food scraps and a dry place to sleep. The subject of the 23-year-old novelist's story--Iweala is American born of Nigerian descent--is gripping enough. But even more stunning is the extraordinarily original voice with which this tale is told. The impressionistic narration by a boy constantly struggling to understand the incomprehensible is always breathless, often breathtaking and sometimes heartbreaking. Its odd singsong cadence and twisted use of tense take a few pages to get used to, but Iweala's electrifying prose soon enough propels a harrowing read. (Nov. 8) [Page 29]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Recruited by a unit of guerrilla fighters after the murder of his father by militants, a West African student falls under the spell of his dangerous commander, and finds his new life increasingly contrasting with his former existence.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

The harrowing, utterly original debut novel by Uzodinma Iweala about the life of a child soldier in a war-torn African country—now a critically-acclaimed Netflix original film directed by Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) and starring Idris Elba (Mandela, The Wire).

As civil war rages in an unnamed West-African nation, Agu, the school-aged protagonist of this stunning debut novel, is recruited into a unit of guerilla fighters. Haunted by his father’s own death at the hands of militants, which he fled just before witnessing, Agu is vulnerable to the dangerous yet paternal nature of his new commander.

While the war rages on, Agu becomes increasingly divorced from the life he had known before the conflict started—a life of school friends, church services, and time with his family, still intact. As he vividly recalls these sunnier times, his daily reality continues to spin further downward into inexplicable brutality, primal fear, and loss of selfhood. In a powerful, strikingly original voice, Uzodinma Iweala leads the reader through the random travels, betrayals, and violence that mark Agu’s new community. Electrifying and engrossing, Beasts of No Nation announces the arrival of an extraordinary new writer.