Beasts of No Nation
|Beasts of No Nation|
The novel follows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in an unnamed West African country. While Agu fears his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first torn between conflicting revulsion and fascination with the mechanics of war. Iweala does not shy away from explicit, visceral detail, and paints a complex, difficult picture of Agu as a child soldier.
Iweala is a Nigerian-American, Harvard-educated author. He had also gone to Lincoln High School in Tacoma WA, during his teenage years. While the book does not give any direct clue as to which country it takes place in, there are several details which suggest it is in Nigeria. The book is notable for its confrontational, immersive first-person narrative; Agu speaks in an idiosyncratic cadence of English that mimics sentence structure and expressions in a number of languages spoken in Nigeria.
The novel is about an African boy named Agu who is forced to become a child soldier. His family lived in a small village. When war came, Agu’s mother and sister had to leave on a bus but Agu, his father, and a shoesman try to escape and Agu’s father is shot down and killed. Agu hides and is soon found by soldiers who coerce him to join their rebel force. In a bloody initiation, the commander forces him to kill an unarmed soldier. As Agu is forced to leave his childhood behind, he reminisces about the past: his family, his love of reading and school, his dream of becoming an important Doctor, and how he used to read the Bible every day. He thinks about how he and his friend used to play war and how this war is not the same. He fears that God hates him for killing others but he soon forces himself to believe that this is what God wants because “he is soldier and this is what soldiers do in war.” He befriends a mute boy named Strika and together they face the crimes and hardships of war: looting, rape, killing, and starvation.
Agu loses track of time, understanding only that he was a child before that war but that he has become a man in a seemingly never-ending trial by fire. He wants to stop killing but fears in doing so will get him killed by the Commandant. During this time of war Agu and the army has very little to eat so they eat what they can; rats, small game, goats and some times other people. The food isn’t cooked enough for fear that others will see the fire and the water is known to have human feces in it. Agu and many other men for the army are forced to receive the commander's sexual advances; Agu knows it is wrong but fears to say no. Wishing and wanting to no longer be in the army finally comes true when Rambo, the new lieutenant, shoots and kills the commander. Sick and exhausted Agu and Strika join the disbanded soldiers to try to make their way home. Along the way, Agu's only friend and confidante, Strika, dies and Agu ultimately leaves his fellow soldiers. In time, Agu comes under the care of a missionary shelter/hospital run by a preacher and a white woman, Amy. Agu gets new clothes and all the food and sleep he wants, gaining back his health and strength. However, after living through a bloody guerrilla war, the Bible no longer holds any meaning for him. Amy invites Agu to share his thoughts and feelings. Agu tells her how he would like to be a doctor and save lives so he could redeem his sins. He also tells her all of the evils he had to do in war.
- Audio recording: Uzodinma Iweala reading from Beasts of No Nation at the Key West Literary Seminar, 2008.
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