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.
More reviews –