Review: Beasts of No Nation

Title:  Beasts of No Nation

Author:  Uzodinma Iweala

Published:  November 8, 2005

Page Count:  160

Genre:  Multicultural Fiction

My Rating:  3/5

In this stunning debut novel, Agu, a young boy in an unnamed West African nation, is recruited into a unit of guerrilla fighters as civil war engulfs his country. Haunted by his father’s own death at the hands of militants, Agu is vulnerable to the dangerous yet paternal nature of his new commander. While the war rages on, Agu becomes increasingly divorced from the life he had known before the conflict started—a life of school friends, church services, and time with his family still intact.

I’ve been putting off writing this review for far too long, mainly because I kind of don’t know what to write about Beasts of No Nation.  The book is heavy.  Seriously, this is the most raw, violent, brutal novel I’ve read in a long time.  The entire book is Agu at war.  Literally, that is the premise of the book and 99% of it is details and explanations of what the guerrilla fighters are seeing, thinking, and most of all, doing.  Several times while reading the book  I had to put it down and just take a breather, it was that graphic and difficult to read.

But what did I think of Beasts of No Nation, really?  Well I didn’t enjoy it, exactly, it’s more like I appreciated the novel.  I see what Iweala was doing with this one, it’s definitely one of the most honest books I’ve read in awhile.  And the book is so raw, so gritty, that it’s clear there is a real understanding by the author what is perpetually going on in some African nations.  But it was so very hard to read because Agu was just a child, and the things he was experiencing were so unbelievably beyond his understanding.  They are beyond MY understanding.  I don’t even want to think about or rehash some of the details in this book – it was heartbreaking to read, even moreso when one realizes that actual children ARE recruited by guerrilla fighters and have to live this life.

The book would have been better if it was longer, in my opinion.  There was only a tiny glimpse at Agu’s life before being recruited, and I would have liked to see more.  However, I can understand why more details weren’t given – the book was written as if Agu’s life before fighting didn’t exist, because to him he was an entirely different person than he was before becoming a fighter.  So I get why there wasn’t more, but I think more depth would have increased the literary quality of this novel.

Beasts of No Nation was not an easy read.  But if I look at it objectively, it is a good book and it tells an important story.  I would recommend this novel, but with extreme reservations for those of you/us who have a difficult time with overly violent or graphic books.

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9 thoughts on “Review: Beasts of No Nation”

  1. Very well written thoughts on this one. I’ve read a few books based on children soldiers and totally agree with how violent and graphic the descriptions are. We find it hard to read but can we imagine how hard it is for these young men to be forced to commit such atrocities? As you said, it is an important story and I want to thank you for completing the book, being a witness to the situation, and sharing it with us!!

    1. Thank you, Staci. I am glad I read this one because it’s definitely a story that needs to be told, but man was it difficult to get through.

  2. *hugs* The child soldiers/prostitutes of Sierra Leone/Liberia (and Uganda/Congo) are so sad. It just breaks my heart, and I think there’s a special place in hell reserved for the bastards who do things like that.

    There’s no way I could handle this novel; there are some issues that I prefer reading about in nonfiction, and this is one of them. But good for you for picking it up.

    1. Agreed – these stories are horrific, and it’s even more horrifying to understand that this is really happening. The only good thing about reading this story as fiction is that you can remind yourself that this person doesn’t actually exist. Then again, when you think about the fact that there are thousands just like him in real life, it sort of defeats that. Oh well. I’m glad I read it, just not going to read it again.

  3. I don’t think I could read about a child forced to be a soldier. Especially as I have a young child of my own. Maybe at a later time in my life… it certainly sounds like an important book to read, if only to know that things like this do happen in the world.

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