(Harper/Collins)Agu is young, probably eleven or twelve years old. Up to now he has had a happy childhood --- loving father and mother, a kindly people in his village. But a war has been raging in his country, one of those endless battles that has subsumed Western Africa since the end of colonialism.Agu ends up in the hands of the Commandant and his troops. They take him off to teach him to be a soldier.One day they stop some "enemy" soldiers. They make them climb down from their truck, take off their clothes, and lie face down in the dust. "'Kill him,' Commandant is saying in my ear and lifting my hand high with the machete. 'Kill him oh.'"
I am feeling like electricity is running through my whole body. The man is screaming, AYEEEIII, louder than the sound of bullet whistling and then he is bringing his hand to his head, but it is not helping because his head is cracking and the blood is spilling out like milk from coconut. I am hearing laughing all around me even as I am watching him trying to hold his head together.This slaughter occurs on page twenty-one. Iweala's writing is effective ... brutally effective. The effect is that one may lay aside Beasts of No Nation, vowing to come back. I did just that. Over a period of the next few weeks, I would pick it up, riffle through the pages, start to read, and lay it down again.
After awhile, I came to suspect that this is as far as I will get with this one. I have no idea if Agu's life gets better, or worse; happier or sadder; whether he survives (or whether he even wants to survive).
There come books, volumes sitting on my "books to review" table, volumes that seem always to stay there, working their way gradually down to the bottom of the stack. Autobiographies out of the holocaust. Reports on ethnic cleansing. Wars of, on, or by what are called terrorists or anti-terrorists.
Novels or essays on the death of innocents by gas, injection, bombings, chemicals or social upheaval. Children starving in Africa. Children starving India. Children starving in South or Central America. Children starving.
News of far-off lands invaded, far-off lands developing nuclear weapons, far-off lands suffering from neglect, drought, random death. I don't want to know.
Does this mean I am growing insensitive to the agonies of the world? Perhaps. It is, also, perhaps, the dawning knowledge that for all these years of reading and letter-writing and marching and talking, you and I still have little chance of undoing a desperately cruel streak that seems to run through much of humanity.
All these poor and homeless are being besieged by those working in the name of democracy, or national security, or political unity, or morality, or the innumerable divines ... or under the rubric of making the world a "better place." Despite this, it actually seems to be turning somewhat more messy, sad, bestial.
Peace, I think, after my seventh decade on earth. Give us (the world, you, me) peace. Give us quiet, some harmony. Give the young, whoever they are, wherever they are, enough food and clothing so they may live, and live joyfully, and not be out there hurting others. Especially themselves.
In the meantime, spare us --- for now, anyhow --- the woes that you and I read about and have brooded about and tried so hard to diminish for ever so long.
--- A. W. Allworthy