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Iweala's novel is a book about children, and about as far from a children's book as one can get. It's a horrifying portrait of war that takes readers to hell -- all too real in the world today -- the hell of child soldiers in Africa. But it is the author's verbal dexterity that makes this work of fiction so gripping and utterly original.
Agu is a young boy when war comes to his village. He loses his family, and in trying to escape, he is kidnapped by guerrilla fighters and conscripted into their ragtag army. So his education in war begins -- and soon Agu too, is committing atrocities, in an effort to survive.
Written in a unique voice that's part patois, part mythical epic, and part childlike reportage, Agu's narration casts a harrowing spell. Iweala, a young American of Nigerian descent, drew on the memories of his own family and that of refugees with whom he worked to craft his first novel, and the result is a fully realized work of fiction. Agu's account of the war has a musical quality, and his disarmingly innocent language clashes violently with the savagery he describes, mirroring the battle raging in his own heart. For at its core, Beasts of No Nation is not merely the description of a physical battle but of a spiritual one -- the battle for a boy's very soul. And by the book's end, we can glimpse redemption.
(Holiday 2005 Selection)
Beasts of No Nation leaves the reader with one resonant, beautiful sentence that captures everything the author has set out to say. That sentence deserves to be read in the full context of this universal soldier's story.
The New York Times
Iweala's visceral debut is unrelenting in its brutality and unremitting in its intensity. Agu, the precocious, gentle son of a village schoolteacher father and a Bible-reading mother, is dragooned into an unnamed West African nation's mad civil war-a slip of a boy forced, almost overnight, to shoulder a soldier's bloody burden. The preteen protagonist is molded into a fighting man by his demented guerrilla leader and, after witnessing his father's savage slaying, by an inchoate need to belong to some kind of family, no matter how depraved. He becomes a killer, gripped by a muddled sense of revenge as he butchers a mother and daughter when his ragtag unit raids a defenseless village; starved for both food and affection, he is sodomized by his commandant and rewarded with extra food scraps and a dry place to sleep. The subject of the 23-year-old novelist's story-Iweala is American born of Nigerian descent-is gripping enough. But even more stunning is the extraordinarily original voice with which this tale is told. The impressionistic narration by a boy constantly struggling to understand the incomprehensible is always breathless, often breathtaking and sometimes heartbreaking. Its odd singsong cadence and twisted use of tense take a few pages to get used to, but Iweala's electrifying prose soon enough propels a harrowing read. (Nov. 8) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Have you ever wondered how children become enlisted as soldiers, and men become desensitized to slaughter? Iweala's aptly titled debut takes us into the belly of the beast from the perspective of the school-aged Agu. Separated from his family when a civil war erupts, he is taken captive and adopted as a soldier by a band of lawless men and boys. It could be anywhere and anytime in Africa, when desperation, fear, and hatred fuel bloodshed and inhumanity. Agu is cajoled into his first killing, with his commandant telling him it is like falling in love: "You are just having to doing it, he is saying." The soldiers are told to view their enemies as dogs or goats, as meat. With hunger and confusion propelling him, Agu gets a taste for killing-a taste that galls him in the moments when he lets his guard down. The terror that Agu witnesses and engages in is told in his simple, declarative voice that makes the violence all the more senseless and immediate. This slim, harrowing account of the intoxication of violence and how quickly it can escalate is a cautionary tale that offers no easy answers or explanations. Recommended for public and YA libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/05; see also "Fall Editors' Picks," p. 40-44.]-Misha Stone, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
This astonishing debut by a gifted 23-year-old American of Nigerian ancestry tracks an African child soldier's descent into hell. Resilient but terrified, Little Agu is a wide-eyed, preteen boy thrown among the demented and the depraved. At the start, in an unspecified West African country, he's being dragged out of a shack in the bush and beaten by another child. There are trucks, and soldiers in rags. They offer Agu food and water and the chance to be a soldier. Agu accepts (as if he had a choice). He has lost his loving, close-knit family. His mother and sister were evacuated by the UN, and his schoolteacher father was shot before his eyes. Agu inherited their Christian and animist beliefs; the smartest kid in his one-room school, he loved to read the Bible. Now he must kill. It's not so hard if you're high on "gun juice." Explains Agu: "They are all saying, stop worrying. Stop worrying. Soon it will be your own turn and then you will know what it is feeling like to be killing somebody. Then they are laughing at me and spitting on the ground near my feets." Agu comes across a mother and daughter and butchers them with his knife. He wants to be a good soldier, yet he is fearful of being a "bad boy"-and there is no way to resolve the contradiction. Agu is always tired, always hungry, and his ordeal stretches into the night when he is used as a sex toy and sodomized. There are no pitched battles, just these ragtag rebels killing and plundering. Iweala writes with great restraint, mindful that the most important battle is for a boy's soul: Redemption is possible, even if a return to innocence is not. The outrageous conscription of children has its own heartbreaking lament.
“Devastating...a raw and brutal story about the horrifying effects of cruelty and the incredible power of hope.”
“This is an extraordinary book. . . . It’s so vivid [and] powerful.”
The Washington Post
“The hypnotic present tense, first-person narration draws the reader deep into the child soldier’s shattered psyche.”
The Times of London
“A powerful debut.”
“A raw, compelling first novel.”
“A brilliant debut. . . . This is a remarkable novel that suggests a dazzling literary future.”
New York Magazine
“Uzodinma Iweala is receiving not just hype but praise from reviewers for the frighteningly convincing voice of a preteen soldier.”
(A) - Entertainment Weekly
"Remarkable. . . . Iweala never wavers from a gripping, pulsing narrative voice."
San Diego Union-Tribune
“Searing and visceral. . . . Agu’s unblinking innocence gives the story its most powerful and disturbing beauty.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Stark, vivid.... Written like a nightmare in progress, this story is a fever dream of voice and consciousness.”
“Searing. . . . An extraordinary debut novel.”
The New Yorker
“A startling debut…. Iweala’s acute imagining allows him to depict the war as a mesh of bestial pleasures and pain.”
“A brilliant debut. . . . This is a remarkable novel that suggests a dazzling literary future.”
Entertainment Weekly (A)
“Remarkable. . . . Iweala never wavers from a gripping, pulsing narrative voice.”
“[Beasts of No Nation] is a work of visceral urgency…it heralds the arrival of a major talent.”
“Uzodinma Iweala is a gifted and brave writer.”
(****) - People Magazine
"A brilliant debut. . . . This is a remarkable novel that suggests a dazzling literary future."
"Searing. . . . An extraordinary debut novel."
Read an Excerpt
Beasts of No Nation A Novel
By Uzodinma Iweala
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2005 Uzodinma Iweala
All right reserved.
It is starting like this. I am feeling itch like insect is crawling on my skin, and then my head is just starting to tingle right between my eye, and then I am wanting to sneeze because my nose is itching, and then air is just blowing into my ear and I am hearing so many thing: the clicking of insect, the sound of truck grumbling like one kind of animal, and then the sound of somebody shouting, TAKE YOUR POSITION RIGHT NOW! QUICK! QUICK QUICK! MOVE WITH SPEED! MOVE FAST OH! in voice that is just touching my body like knife.
I am opening my eye and there is light all around me coming into the dark through hole in the roof, crossing like net above my body. Then I am feeling my body crunched up like one small mouse in the corner when the light is coming on. The smell of rainwater and sweat is coming into my nose and I am feeling my shirt is so wet it is almost like another skin. I want to be moving, but my whole bone is paining me and my muscle is paining me like fire ant is just biting me all over my body. If I can be slapping myself to be making it go away I am doing it, but I cannot even move one finger. I am not doing anything.
Footstep is everywhere around me and making me to think that my father is coming to bring medicine to stop all of this itch and pain. I turn onto my back. The footstep is growing louder, louder, louder until I am hearing it even more than my own breathing or heart beating. Step slap, step slap, step slap, I am hearing getting louder, louder, louder and then shadow is coming into the light from under the door.
Somebody is knocking. KNOCK KNOCK. But I am not answering. Then they are angrying too much and just kicking so the whole of this place is shaking and the roof is falling apart small small so that more light is coming in. And the wood everywhere is cracking until I am hearing PING PING and seeing screw falling from the door into bucket near my feets. The sound is fighting the wall, bouncing from here to there, through the net of light, until it is like the sound is pushing the door open so there is so much brightness. BRIGHTNESS! So much brightness is coming into my eye until I am seeing purple spot for long time. Then I am seeing yellow eye belonging to one short dark body with one big belly and leg thin like spider's own. This body is so thin that his short is just blowing around his leg like woman's skirt and his shirt is looking like dress the way it is hanging from his shoulder. His neck is just struggling too much to hold up his big head that is always moving one way or the other.
I am looking at him. He is looking at me. He is not surprising at all to be seeing me even if I am surprising for him, but his face is falling and becoming more dark. He is sniffing like dog and stepping to me. KPAWA! He is hitting me.
Again and again he is hitting me and each blow from his hand is feeling on my skin like the flat side of machete. I am trying to scream, but he is knocking the air from my chest and then slapping my mouth. I am tasting blood. I am feeling like vomiting. The whole place around us is shaking, just shaking rotten fruit from the shelf, just sounding like it will be cracking into many piece and falling on top of us. He is grabbing my leg, pulling it so hard that it is like it will be coming apart like meat, and my body is just sliding slowly from the stall out into the light and onto the mud.
In the light, my breath is coming back and using force to open my chest to make me to coughing and my eye to watering. The whole world is spreading before me and I am looking up to the gray sky moving slowly slowly against the top leaf of all the tall tall Iroko tree. And under this, many smaller tree is fighting each other to climb up to the sunlight. All the leaf is dripping with rainwater and shining like jewel or glass. The grasses by the road is so tall and green past any color I am seeing before. This is making me to think of jubilating, dancing, shouting, singing because Kai! I am saying I am finally dead. I am thinking that maybe this boy is spirit and I should be thanking him for bringing me home to the land of spirits, but before I can even be opening my mouth to be saying anything, he is leaving me on my back in the mud.
I can see the bottom of truck parking just little bit away from me. Two truck is blocking up the whole road and more are parking on the roadside. The piece of cloth covering them is so torn up and full of hole and the paint is coming off to showing so much rust, like blood, making me to thinking the truck is like wounding animal. And around all the truck, just looking like ghost, are soldier. Some is wearing camouflage, other is wearing T-shirt and jean, but it is not mattering because all of the clothe is tearing and having big hole. Some of them is wearing real boot and the rest is wearing slipper. Some of them is standing at attention with their leg so straight that it is looking like they do not have knee. Some of them is going to toilet against the truck and other is going to toilet into the grasses. Almost everybody is carrying gun.
Excerpted from Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala Copyright © 2005 by Uzodinma Iweala. Excerpted by permission.
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