Title: Word Crush Wednesday: Beasts Of No Nation

Author: Uzodinma Iweala

Year Of Publication: 2005

Genre: War, Fiction

Summary: How lucky are we? Back to back weeks I’ve written about author’s first novels. Last week was Andy Weir’s The Martian. This week: Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts Of No Nation.

The novel is the story of Agu, a child in an unnamed West African country, who becomes a child soldier. The government raids his village, killing his father and many others. Forced to flee or lose his life, Agu is eventually captured by a rebel militia force and compelled to fight or be killed.

Iweala writes in the first person, using active verbs to give the readers Agu’s account in real time. This perspective is further developed through the style of Agu’s thoughts, which are both intentionally nondescript and hurried. He repeats words, he uses onomatopoeia; everything for him is new and he’s slow to process. So he relays it to us in terms that he knows and it pulls you further into Agu’s head.

Mind you, that’s a dangerous place to be. The rebels traverse the countryside thrashing people and places in their path in search of resources. The band is led by Commandant, a stern and dangerous man. Through his “leadership” Agu, just a young boy at the start, becomes a man. He forces Agu to kill and pillage, reminding the boy that they are trying to avenge the group that killed his father.

For his part, Agu internalizes things quickly and simply. He becomes a soldier so he must kill, for that is what soldiers do. He must kill because if he does not, he will himself be killed. A Catch-22 of atrocity.    

The ending is abrupt and satisfying; I’ll remember Agu’s last words for a long time. They’re haunting, affecting, and heartbreaking. Because for all that happens in this book, every sad, disgusting, terrible thing, you realize – Agu is a child. Why is this his life?

TL;DR: A child soldier in West Africa fights for his life.

Verdict: A quick but heavy read, well worth the journey. And, yeah, we made a podcast about this one as well.