Friday, December 16, 2005
Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
A short novel (publishers seem to have abolished the novella) told in the voice of an African child soldier that is amazing in its ability to stay in voice. I like the novel, it's unique, it's a compelling subject, it's very skillfully written, but I kept wondering why the kid is talking in this voice. It's the voice of immigrant English. But why would this kid be telling his story in English? It suggests that the audience for the novel is American (or at least English speaking) and the voice is the one that average Americans expect Africans to speak in. I suppose in lit crit thought there's a lot that could be made of this--the child telling his story to the audience that has so far been ignoring it, not to his own people who are well aware of it--but I'm mostly interested in it as a writing decision. The novel was written in English, by a writer fully capable of smooth, literary English, but if the voice of the narrator was not this chopped up lyrical pidgeon English, there would be no book. This is very much a voice-driven story; the voice creates the sense of chaos and strangeness of the world of war, and especially the confusion of being a child at war. There is almost no character development, and really very little plot (while there are many kidnappings, killings, and rapes, it's a strangely plotless book). It is the voice that holds the reader to the page--which suggests to me that this could have been a really phenomenal short story, and perhaps should have been, though I admit I cruised through the whole novel, and enjoyed it most of the time.