Beasts Of No Nation
A civil war in Africa or drug traffic war in a favela in Brazil? The debut novel of the Nigerian writer Uzodinma Iweala, 23 years old, won the Young Lions Fiction and Discover Great New Writers awards. Iweala narrates the toughening of a boy among violent disputes between rival factions in a non-identified country. Suddenly, the boy Agu's life turns upside down: the peace of the village where he lives with his parents and sister is broken with the arrival of a militia lead by a mad and cruel man. Alone, away from his family, Agu is forced to kill to live, as he is recruited as the youngest soldier in the group, witnessing the horrors of a conflict he doesn't understand. And becoming a part of it. Beasts of no nation is the debut novel of Uzodinma Iweala, 23 years old. This book has already won awards like Young Lions Fiction, promoted by the Public Library of New York and Discover Great Writers, at the Fiction category. In this novel, human beings are reduced to their most primitive aspects, becoming beasts that promote violence and death. By choosing Agu as the narrator of the story, Iweala potentialises the horrors witnessed and promoted by the boy: it is his childish voice that takes us through the war and its horrors; it's listening to his hesitations and modesties that we watch the transformation from boy-who-wants-to-be-an-engineer to monster-boy. Agu's innocence is gradually being covered by murders, rapes, pillagings and all sorts of criminal acts that he suffers and executes. He became a soldier and does his duties, but still remembers his mother's teachings and gets confused: how can he now kill without throwing up or fainting like the first times and still fearing God and wanting to be a good boy? Using a language of simple and even repetitive structures but, at the same time, incisive, vigorous, full of sound and colour- "a writing as fast as a bullet and as enchanting as african drum beat", as the writer Jose Eduardo Agualusa states at the book's dust jacket-. Iweala stresses the contrast between childish innocence and violence, gives the narrative a vertiginous pace and makes a surprising empathy between the reader and the character possible. The most impressive thing about Beasts of no nation is how the reader goes on being sympathetic to Agu. We go on following his growing brutality, but keep wanting the war to end and that he stays well, and, if possible, happy. Were we able to forgive him every violence practiced? In Beasts of no nation, Agu dreams of different things: to kill the men who made his family disappear, to carry a realm gun, to have food tomorrow, to grope the girl who serves the drinks, to be a giant tree, to make the man that lives at the moon smile, to find his mother, to go back to school and to become, at last, an engineer. In this mix of dreams, arises a new and talented writer, who reaches out to his readers not only with a story difficult to forget, but with questions even more difficult to be answered: are we able to forgive anyone the atrocities perpetrated? This no nation of beasts able to perform the worst atrocities may be in an African country, as the book suggests, full with details from an unique and rich culture, but its boundaries are much broader and can reach us, can reach Brazil, for instance, with its little murderers, soldiers of the traffic, little thiefs with a 38. in their hands. Violent and violated children, that are very similar to Agu. But unlike Agu, we can't look at them long enough. What is to say of forgiving massacres and bloodshed. The impact of Uzodinma Iweala's first novel is also its troubling universality.