Beasts of no nation
Actual reviewers have said it, but I was completely astonished so I have to repeat: this is an amazing debut. The guy was 23 when he wrote this. 23 (!!).
It’s a very short book – but quite gut wrenching. I would say it packs so many disturbing moments just to get a rise out of the readers (Push style) except that unfortunately it’s very much inspired by reality, a reality whose horrors we can never pretend to understand (just like Agu senses that Amy, the American volunteer, can’t help and can’t empathize, despite her good intentions). It’s a first person narration by Agu, a young boy who is caught up in a brutal civil war in an unnamed African country (Nigeria, I would assume). During peacetime he was part of a well off, intellectual family but, after the village is attacked and his father dies, he is picked up by the rebel army and forced to join their ranks. His experiences are not for the weak hearted, because Mr. Iweala descriptive prose is very precise yet evocative – a bit like a kick to the stomach (don’t ask why a kick to the stomach is evocative, I’m really at odds with my ability to write coherent things). The march from village to village, the pain and hunger, seeing death and, even more so, provoking it – they all take their toll on the child, but he still manages to hang on to his old dream of becoming a Doctor or Engineer, of being respected by a community. And that is pretty amazing in itself.
I’m a bit sorry I didn’t get to read the original – all I have is a translation where, what I suspect is broken English (or at least with African idiosyncrasies), is turned more into bad grammar – I think the book looses a bit of its power here, because Agu comes across at the same time as vaguely illiterate (which he was not) and unseemly insightful.
Check out metacritic for a whole bunch of reviews.