Small by Small

Thomas Jones

  • Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
    Murray, 180 pp, £12.99, August 2005, ISBN 0 7195 6752 1

Some fictional characters are easier to imagine being than others, either because they’re more like us (‘we’ being whoever’s doing the imagining, whether readers or writers), or because they’re more like characters familiar from other stories. Agu, the narrator of Beasts of No Nation, Uzodinma Iweala’s short, intense and ambitious first novel, is a rebel soldier in a civil war in an anonymous African country. He has no sense of the cause he is fighting for, or even who his leaders are, beyond his immediate superiors, men he knows only as Commandant and Luftenant. He spends his days ‘walking and fighting and soldiering and running’ – ‘soldiering’ encompasses killing, raping, mutilating. Most nights, he is himself raped by Commandant. It’s not surprising that Agu doesn’t understand the larger political purpose of all this: he is, after all, only a child.

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