March 5, 2007 archive

Beasts of No Nation – Book Review

So I am joining. Just like that. I am a soldier. – From Beasts of No Nation, page 11 –

Uzodinma Iweala set out to tell a universal story about terrible violence and brutality. It is a story, set in an unnamed African nation, about a child soldier named Agu who is recruited by a ruthless commandant The novel unfolds through Agu’s unique voice, which is at once both  foreign and difficult to understand as it is poetic.

“His language is a construct, loosely based on Pidgin English, inspired by voices of ordinary Nigerians, and of course by such writers as Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chinua Achebe, and Amos Tutuola.” – Uzodinma Iweala, 2005 –

I must admit to some ambivalence around Agu’s voice. Initially, I was put off by the lilting choppiness of it – but as I read, it took on a lyrical and rhythmic quality that seemed to suit the subject matter. There are times when the reader feels almost as if she is watching a dream unfold.

The novel flows from past to present to a boy’s fantasies of an uncertain future. It gives the reader glimpses into Agu’s life before war came to his tiny village, and then reveals the numbing and harsh realities of his present life. Agu’s friend, Strika, is equally haunting though we hear his voice only once. When Agu sees Strika drawing a picture in the dirt of a man and woman with no head he begins to understand his friend’s silence.

His picture is telling me that he is not making one noise since they are killing his parent.
From Beasts of No Nation, page 36 –

Beasts of No Nation is a devastating novel about a boy’s shattered life. It is a demanding book which although slim, packs a huge punch. Sorrowful and stunning in its simple narration – this book will weigh heavily on the reader’s heart.

Passages from the Novel:

My thinking is like the road, going on and on, and on and on, until it is taking me so far far away from this place. Sometimes I am thinking of my life far far ahead and sometimes I am thinking of all the life I am leaving behind. – From Beasts of No Nation, page 93 –

…but I am knowing now that to be a soldier is only to be weak and not strong, and to have no food to eat and not to eat whatever you want, and also to have people making you do thing that you are not wanting to do and not to be doing whatever you are wanting which is what they are doing in movie. – From Beasts of No Nation, page 31 –

To read more reviews or discussions on this book, please visit The NYT Most Notable Book Blog.

Water for Elephants – Book Review

I don’t talk much about those days. Never did. I don’t know why – I worked on circuses for nearly seven years, and if that isn’t fodder for conversation, I don’t know what is. Actually I do know why: I never trusted myself. I was afraid I’d let it slip. I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did – for the rest of her life, and then beyond. In seventy years, I’ve never told a blessed soul.
 – From Water for Elephants,  page 4 –

Jacob Jankowski is 90 – or 93 – years old and living in a nursing home … and he has a story to tell. Told alternately from the point of view of the elderly Jankowski and the “younger” Jankowski, Water for Elephants is an entertaining novel of the circus which uncovers a long kept secret about a murder. Gruen fills her novel with colorful characters with names like Camel and Kinko. She weaves true (albeit outrageous) vignettes about circus life through her fiction. Black and white photos from circus archives are interspersed throughout the novel.

Water for Elephants is about love and loyalty, greed and cruelty. For anyone who has thought about running away to join a circus, this novel is a must read. Animal lovers will fall in love with Bobo and Rosie, and cheer at the end.


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