Beasts of No Nation

“The whole world is spreading before me and I am looking up to the grey sky moving slowly slowly against the top leaf of the tall tall Iroko tree. And under this, many smaller tree is fighting each other to climb up to the sunlight.… This is making me think of jubilating, dancing, shouting, singing because Kai! I am saying I am finally dead.”

Agu is a young boy recruited by a guerilla unit during a civil war in an anonymous West African country. Taken away from his Bible-reading, spiritual mother, now amidst brutal men, Agu is torn between the beastly violence he witnesses and the paternal figure of his commander, in a brutal world where crime is ordinary and humaneness remains rare and precious.

 Although situated in a long line of child soldier stories, Iweala’s brilliant novel is really a story about how language creates things, images, and worlds.

Language is one of the major achievements of this novel. It is through language and dialogue that Agu fights his demons and rediscovers the innocent, “normal” boy he once was. And through Agu’s eyes the reader comes to know the savagery, but also the spectacular beauty of his world. A world haunted by fear, the horrors of war and the absence of humanity, and mirrored by his inside words.

Instead of chronicling a coming-of-age or a loss of innocence, Beasts of No Nation is more about exploring what innocence actually is. And in Iweala’s novel, it is synonymous with being able to speak for oneself, to voice out the demons inside oneself. Innocence is letting go and freeing oneself and, for Agu, freedom is speech.

Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

Harper Perennial | 2006 | ISBN: 978-0060798680

Review by Ioana Danaila

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Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people. She has published short stories and translated books from French to Romanian. She speaks Romanian, French, English, and Spanish and teaches English to high school students in France.

South Sudan: Child cry of war | Onam Liduba

I was found along the road side in open ash air
I grew like a child of leach
No mother and no father
I feed on bitter leaves and roots in the desert
I stay in rain and hot sun for fear
Are all children in the same condition?
No, a child elsewhere enjoys the calm blue sky
And the love of his parents
A fox has a den and a bird has nest
But the child of war has nowhere to lay his head
For fear of bombs and bullets in southern Sudan
O God lift up this child of war

 

 

Onam Liduba was born in  Southern Sudan. Displaced by the war, he lived in different refugee camps where he attended and then taught secondary school classes. In 2000, Liduba was granted asylum by the U.S., and in 2001, he was sent to Chicago where earned multiple degrees. In 2007, Liduba founded a non-profit organization called the Pari People Project to build a clinic and to provide school supplies for students in the Lafon area of Sudan.

Sierra Leone: Farewell To My Dying Native Land (excerpt)| Tom Cauuray

When the sky played the rain-song
And the showers danced with you,
I remember the rhythm and the tune,
The whirring waltz which lulled my eyes to sleep.
These woes of war belabour sleep.

When you washed your dark-brown skin,
I smelled your spray of earth-perfume,
But now the scent of smouldering human flesh.
Your forests are scorched.
Your fauna crushed.
Your cheerful twigs on the bush-road edge,
Whose playful sprinkle washed my head,
Are all dead, now weevil’s bed.

Tom Cauuray was one of Sierra Leone’s foremost writers, intellectuasls, and adventurers. Forced to flee during the war, the poem was written upon his return to the country. Cauuray died in Sierra Leone in 2009.

Nigeria: Christmas in Biafra | Chinua Achebe

This sunked-eyed moment wobbling
down the rocky steepness on broken
bones slowly fearfully to hideous
concourse of gathering sorrows in the valley
will yet become in another year a lost
Christmas irretrievable in the heights
its exploding inferno transmuted
by cosmic distances to the peacefulness
of a cool twinkling star…. To dead-cells
of that moment came farway sounds of other
men’s carols floating on crackling waves
mocking us. With regret? Hope? Longing? None of
these, strangely, not even despair rather
distilling pure transcendental hate….

Beyond the hospital gate
the good nuns had set up a manger
of palms to house a fine plastercast
scene at Bethlehem. The Holy
Family was central, serene, the Child
Jesus plump wise-looking and rose-cheeked: one
of the magi in keeping with legend
a black Othello in sumptuous robes. Other
figures of men and angels stood
at well-appointed distances from
the heart of the divine miracle
and the usual cattle gazed on
in holy wonder….

Poorer than the poor worshipers
before her who had paid their homage
with pitiful offering of new aluminum
coins that few traders would take and
a frayed five-shilling note she only
crossed herself and prayed open-eyed. Her
infant son flat like a dead lizard
on her shoulder his arms and legs
cauterised by famine was a miracle
of its kind. Large sunken eyes
stricken past boredom to a flat
unrecognising glueyness moped faraway
motionless across her shoulder….

Now her adoration over
she turned him around and pointed
at those pretty figures of God
and angels and men and beasts-
a spectacle to stir the heart
of a child. But all he vouchsafed
was one slow deadpan look of total
unrecognition and he began again
to swivel his enormous head away
to mope as before at his empty distance….
She shrugged her shoulders, crossed
herself again, and took him away.

Culled from: Chinua Achebe Collected Poems Anchor Books (2004)

Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. He was best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised in Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. His later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God(1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah(1987). When the region of Biafra broke away from Nigeria in 1967, Achebe became a supporter of Biafran independence and acted as ambassador for the people. After the Nigerian government retook the region in 1970, he involved himself in political parties but soon resigned. From 2009 until his death, he served as a professor at Brown University.

 

Mauritania: Message from a Martyr | Mbarka Mint al-Barra’

Fire your bullets — our hearts are already ablaze
       In this land, grief wells up from my distress
Fire your bullets — you villain — for I
       Won’t play at murder or run away
My blood fertilises and refreshes this land
       And plants a promising generation that is fully conscious
Limbs grow from seeds of shrapnel
       Hands are formed and crowns spring
That bet this land will always be their home —
       In every corner they stand their ground
Wherever I am, this land is my passion
       Nostalgia is fused with this timeless love
I don’t care if there are explosions
       I don’t mind the annihilating thunder

 

Translated by Joel Mitchell. Culled from The Poetry Translation Workshop.

Mbarka Mint al-Barra’ is a Mauritanian poet and teacher who writes primarily in Arabic. A prominent figure in the cultural and literary life of her country, she has achieved some renown elsewhere in the Arab world, frequently attending literary festivals in other Arab countries.

Central African Republic: La Republique Centrafricaine | Aimée Yangbadji

La Republique Centrafricaine

Ici en RCA, on parle de langue francais et la langue nationale qui est sango
Le drapeau de la RCA a cinq couleurs qui sont :
Le bleu, montre la mer
Le blanc, montre le coton
Vert, montre la foret
Jaune montre le diamant et l’or
Rouge montre le sang

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English Translation

The Central African Republic

Here in CAR, we speak french and the national language which is sango
The flag of CAR has five colours, which are:
Blue, showing the sea
White, showing the cotton
Green, showing the forest
Yellow, showing diamonds and gold
Red, showing the blood

 

Culled from Art in All of Us. 

The African Book Review is posting a poem from each of Africa’s 55 countries over the next few weeks. Poem suggestions can be sent through the comments form below. ‘Like’ us on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr to read all the poems.

A Mother In a Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe (excerpt)

Achebe 1This a wonderful excerpt from a poem by Chinua Achebe. The poem is centered around a mother in a refugee camp, most likely during the Biafran war. The link between the past and present and the way war ruptures this is focused so articulately in the mother’s actions, combing her son’s hair. The foreshadowing, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave,’ anchors the poem rendering it heartbreaking yet somehow full of hope. Most people know Achebe as a great writer, not necessarily as a poet but his collection of poetry in Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe is a brilliant, tender, and humorous exploration of a range of topics many centered around the effects of war in Biafra, colonialism in Nigeria, and the poets own observations on life.

 

 

A Simple Lust By Dennis Brutus

Born in 1924 in Salisbury to South African parents, Brutus is best known for his protest poetry which challenged the South African apartheid while celebrating freedoms all men ought to have. He was instrumental in the exclusion of South Africa and Rhodesia from the 1964 Olympics on the grounds of racism. His activism led to his being banned from all political and social activity and in 1973 he was arrested but escaped while on bail. He was later re-arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. He spent those months on Robben Island, in a cell next to Nelson Mandela. Described as “A fearless campaigner for justice, a relentless organizer, an incorrigible romantic, and a great humanist and teacher,” Brutus died on 26 December 2009, at his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

584232-2A Simple Lust is a beautiful collection of Brutus’ poems during his time as a political prisoner and exile traveling the world unable to return to South Africa. Brutus captures the alternating awareness of limitations and challenges such restrictions in his poems about the land of South Africa, “A troubadour I traverse all my land… and I have laughed, disdaining those who banned/ inquiry and movement…choosing, like an unarmed thumb, simply to stand…” (2)

And stand he does, in his resistance to the forces of oppression and his insistence on delimiting the land as his, he captures the emotional gamut of black and colored South Africans, from the desire to fight for freedom, “Sharpevilled to spearpoints for revenging…” (9) to a simple resolute appreciation for just surviving, “Somehow we survive,/ and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither” (4).

Little can match  the well of understanding and emotion Brutus deftly disperses throughout A Simple Lust, yet his writing style and keen sense of observation elevate the reader’s experience even more. Brutus does to words what Achebe did to African Literature, he expands our appreciation of them. With words such as ‘air-live,’ ‘harsh-joy,’ ‘lovelaughter,’ he pushes their limitations past meaning into feeling.

A Simple Lust takes the reader from the darting eyes of a prisoner in his cell describing the effects of confinement on the psyche, to desolate beaches in Algiers, through the sorrowed longings of a wife separated from her husband, presenting cold reflections on ‘Amerika…the home of the brave’ (144), and on. Brutus welcomes the reader into a lush, experienced, understanding of oppression and resistance. More importantly, it offers a profound sense of what it means to carry joy as hope and to, as Brutus, reject desolation as the only reality.

“Peace will come./ We have the power/ the hope/ the resolution./ Men will go home.” (96)

A Simple Lust by Dennis Brutus

African Writers Series | 1979 | ISBN: 0 435 90115 X | HEB 115

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families

We wish to inform you…

Who: Rwanda, 1994.

Why: Simple answer: The final kindling of a flame, centuries old, leading to a massive flare, hundreds of thousands dead.

Should I read it: Yes.

Qq: “Rwanda had the memories and the habits of a long past, yet the rupture in that past had been so absolute that the country I was driving through was a place that has never existed before” Pg. 180

Surviving violence is often an extension of the pain one has escaped. Indeed, when that pain is caused by your neighbour, your in-law, your priest, your government, surviving is a rebirth into an essentially different world. An intriguing, if slightly undeveloped, aspect of We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families, is Gourevitch’s focus on the survivors of the genocide. Having provided an indepth look at the forces behind the genocide, (“genocide is never spontaneous”) Gourevitch seeks to understand how the survivors battled the fears, guilt, and hopes that came with that position. He asks, along with the Rwandans he interviews, how to face western forces that first helped feed into the hate and propaganda spurring Hutus to kill hundreds of thousands of their Tutsi friends, in-laws, congregation members, neighbours, using only machetes, then turned away from requests to intervene and stop the violence, provided aid to perpetrators-turned-refugees, and then arrogantly demanded that both Tutsi and Hutu fractions put aside their differences, like little children, and live together again. (Desmond Tutu urged them to bond over their shared blackness). In many ways, Gourevitch attempts to underscore the efforts of the people and the nation as a whole, not to pretend to move past their pain, but in light of their shared and individual experiences of violence, loss, and devastation, answer the bigger question, “now what?” Should the violence be forgotten? Should it be commemorated (Rwanda now has a national holiday in remembrance of the genocide), can the batutsi reach out to the bahutu? Can a tutsi woman raped during the genocide love her enfant mauvais souvenir, child of her hutu rapist? When does the pain go away? Gourevitch’s recount is not just a piece of investigative journalism, it’s not just a westerner attempting to piece together a foreign story, it’s an insight into what it means to experience the extreme violence humanity carries out against humanity, and what it means to survive, to find the right words to ask questions with no compact answers, to seek an amorphous justice, to understand the limitations of retribution, and to live. We Wish to Inform You, is not light reading, it’s necessary reading.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

Pcador | 1999 | ISBN: 9780312243357

Ishmael Beah: An Interview

We were fortunate enough to get an interview with the author of our first review (A Long Way Gone), Ishmael Beah. We had a great conversation, not only was Beah gracious in accommodating our probing questions into the intense emotionality behind the book, but also astute in discussing Sierra Leone today, his hopes for his country, and efforts to make it a place that matches those hopes. 

Ishmael Beah

ARBWhile reading A LONG WAY GONE, we were both moved and intrigued by the way you wove past and present to provide a fuller narrative. How was the process of going back and sorting through your memories to put the book together?

BEAH: It was very difficult to relive the memories of the war during the writing of the book. It was also the first time that I had allowed myself to delve back fully into what had happened as I needed to relive it again to be able to write it with the same emotions, feelings of the boy I had been in the war.

I wanted the reader come along the journey, to see hear, smell, and be close to what it felt like.

Of course this brought about nightmares and flashbacks again. I am happy that I did though; it is a small price, remembering, however difficult it was during writing, to pay so that people can know the story.

I survived and that comes with a responsibility.

So I wrote all I could remember and double checked the memories. The ones I doubted, I threw out and of course I also decided to leave out some things so that the book didn’t become a celebration of violence but rather showing what violence does to the human spirit.

Continue reading “Ishmael Beah: An Interview”