War and War

June 16, 2006

Another book review. Much shorter book.

Don’t know why after finishing Tolstoy’s War and Peace I launched right into Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation—out of the frying pan of 19th century warfare and chaos into the fire of 21st century warfare and brutality. It may well have been the inviting 160 pages packaged in a tidy 7.3 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches. But wow, it was hard to read.

Well written, even beautifully written, I should say, but the brutality and horror told by an innocent narrator just tortures you. The gist of it is a kid of 11 or 12 or so is conscripted by a band of rebel soldiers when his village is attacked. It’s kill or be killed and they don’t even know the why and wherefore.

It took me a long time to read because I didn’t like to read it in bed, and I didn’t like it to be the last thing I read before going to sleep. Just so deeply sad. And some very harsh imagery. So I’d read it for awhile downstairs, then go upstairs and do a crossword puzzle or read a bit of Ten Circles Upon the Pond, the memoir of an apparently sane and charming woman who went and had ten children, the 7th or 8th of whom is a friendly acquaintance of mine.

Anyway, after finishing Beasts, I read a few reviews and some critics took issue with the idiomatic language, complaining that the dialect style was inconsistent or distracting or something. It was unusual, with a heavy use of the gerund form but I was willing to suspend my disbelief a la reading Faulkner, and just try to go with the flow of it. Besides, the author is of African family, not me. Maybe he knows something about regional English patois or perhaps it was a direct transfer of some other language’s grammar into English? Even if totally made up, I found it remarkable but not distracting, and sometimes quite poetic. The last line of the book was made the more effective by it, I thought, and that line a really powerful one. I won’t give it away.

I do recommend reading it, though it is not easy going.


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