This book (Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala) is, I’d say, annoyingly good. It’s not really a novel. It feels like a long short story to me, partly because of its single, straightforward plot and limited cast of characters. And it’s only slightly longer than a novella. But even this length is due in part because of the way the speech and thought of Agu, the narrator, are rendered. It’s a drawn out, repetitive syntax, that could have been condensed. (I’m not saying it should have been; let me be clear about that. It’s perfect for this child.)
An example, from the scene where the book first begins to reveal its violence: “Bloody fool, he is saying to me. Come here and bring that machete. But I am not moving. Commandant is stepping to me and grabbing my neck. You idiot, he is shouting. Come here! Come here right now! He is dragging me to the enemy soldier. Do you see this dog! he is shouting. You want to be a soldier enh? Well—kill him. KILL HIM NOW!”
The story is that Agu is bright boy in a village in Africa who wants nothing more than to be in school to grow up to be an engineer or a doctor. But the war comes—it hardly matters which war, or which African country we’re talking about—the village is attacked, the family scattered, and Agu is absorbed by a band of soldiers. He doesn’t really know what it’s all about or which side he should be on, but the soldiers become his new family for the duration, and so he does what he can be play soldier with them.
And his life is even more horrific than I imagined, and while it is difficult to read sometimes it is necessary. It’s eye-opening and necessary. A powerful read.