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Allah is Not Obliged Paperback – May 8, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727957X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307279576
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,452 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The late Ivory Coast author and political activist Kourouma (Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote) writes with a brutal and obscene frankness reminiscent of Celine in this powerfully tragic novel about a West African child soldier who learns early that "Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth." Unsure if he's 10 or 12 years old, "rude as a goat's beard" Birahima, a third-grade dropout, recalls how his once-beautiful mother became an amputee who "moved on her arse like a caterpillar" and that he suspected her of being a soul-devouring sorceress. After her death, the boy is entrusted to a roguish shaman and sent to live with an aunt in Liberia. En route, they fall into the clutches of a warlord, and Birahima joins their forces as a boy soldier, witnessing and participating in all manner of savagery. Although Birahima's regurgitation of word definitions and chunks of West African history is awkward, this French import is a worthy if difficult read. And the popularity of the current Starbucks pick, the child soldier memoir A Long Way Gone, can't hurt sales potential. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Birahima, who's 11 or so, tells the story of his three years as a child soldier in the fourth and final novel by Ivorian dissident Kourouma (1927-2003). After cancer kills his mother, Birahima embarks on a journey to his aunt in Nigeria, accompanied by Yacouba, "the crippled crook." En route they are diverted westward into the factional war in Liberia and then the worse mess in Sierra Leone, switching allegiances as circumstances dictate, witnessing atrocity upon atrocity, but surviving and sometimes thriving on Yacouba's Muslim gri-gris man shtick and Birahima's . . . what? Maybe his mother's spirit is watching over him. Eventually zagging back east, they discover his aunt has died, but Birahima at least acquires four dictionaries, which he mines to tell his story, ironically inserting definitions, too, for the sake of his fellow "Black Nigger African Natives"--one of many phrases he repeats as if they were refrains or Homeric epithets. And this is an epic tale, a savage odyssey traveled by a cursed latter-day Huck Finn, with, at the end, neither home nor territory to escape to anywhere in sight. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on May 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
(This edition originally published in U.K. in 2006)

Birahama, a young Malinke tribal boy of West Africa, narrates this fascinating, amusing and horrific novel. When his disabled mother dies, his grandmother sends him with a shaman/con artist to live with his aunt in Liberia. While on the way to find her, they meet up with rebel armies and Birahama becomes a child-soldier. During his travails, his mantra becomes the Islamic saying "Allah is not obliged to be fair about the things he does here on earth."

In telling his story, Birahama offers details of village life, the deplorable state of medical care for his mother and others, and his ritualistic initiation into manhood. He shows the unfortunate results of tribal warfare and revolutionary coups on the citizens of Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia. The pathetic existence of the child-soldiers in these conflicts is described fully.

Armed with AK-47s, the child-soldiers are fed hashish to make them feel brave and then used as point men, lookouts, and cannon fodder by the adult members of warlord and revolutionary armies. In addition to their own precarious position, they witness and take part in all manner of cruelties. Yet throughout the telling, Birahama doesn't quite succumb to madness and remains genuinely likeable.

The book's author, the late Ahmadou Kourouma, grew up in Cote d'Ivoire and was familiar with the revolutions in that region. While the flow of story is frequently interrupted with term definitions that the narrator assumes the reader may not know, it grips with the excitement of a tale told by a child, in most sections. I found myself reading on even as I dreaded whatever new form of wartime atrocity that would befall the characters next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Friederike Knabe VINE VOICE on August 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
Orphaned following the death of his mother, Birahima, ten or twelve year old self-declared "fearless blameless street kid", leaves his native village in Ivory Coast to find his aunt in far away Liberia. He is accompanied by Yacouba, "money multiplier", shaman and "gri-gri man", a man who makes amulets for whatever religion seems appropriate at the moment and claiming to protect the wearer from hostile bullets from the other side. They are caught up in the middle of West Africa's brutal civil wars of the nineteen nineties. Having little education and no training, Birahima joins the hordes of child soldiers, fighting for whatever faction supplies them with food, weapons, protective amulets (gri-gri) and hashish. Ahmadou Kourouma, highly respected award winning Ivorian author, has created with ALLAH IS NOT OBLIGED a vivacious, often hilarious, but also disturbing and thought provoking novel.

Published in 2000 in its original French, it was likely the first of fictionalized or factual accounts capturing the life of child soldiers in West or East Africa. Written in the voice of a boy with less than three years of schooling, and with limited French, the author uses his protagonist to convey much more than the intimate reflections of one of the "small soldiers" and what the youth describes as his "miserable existence". The young hero, like the author, is Malinké, an ancient and powerful West African civilization with its own unique language. Birahima shares his story in an unusual and often slang-type French. The author uses this approach to give the reader a flair of the idiomatic Malinké expressions that are full of vivid imagery, curious connotations and convey its distinct African logic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike on April 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
The author was successful in putting a face on the child soldiers of West Africa. He did so in a very unique style, first person and in the street smart, at times crude voice of a child soldier who had witnessed and experienced more than he should have. The author also shed a good deal of light on the greed and ruthlessness of African politics as well as the recent history of Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia. I'm really glad I read this. The international media has deservedly paid a lot of attention to eastern, southern and central Africa over the years, but the devestation of West Africa has often escaped the spotlight which it deserves.
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