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Beasts of No Nation: A Novel Hardcover – November 8, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Iweala's visceral debut is unrelenting in its brutality and unremitting in its intensity. Agu, the precocious, gentle son of a village schoolteacher father and a Bible-reading mother, is dragooned into an unnamed West African nation's mad civil war—a slip of a boy forced, almost overnight, to shoulder a soldier's bloody burden. The preteen protagonist is molded into a fighting man by his demented guerrilla leader and, after witnessing his father's savage slaying, by an inchoate need to belong to some kind of family, no matter how depraved. He becomes a killer, gripped by a muddled sense of revenge as he butchers a mother and daughter when his ragtag unit raids a defenseless village; starved for both food and affection, he is sodomized by his commandant and rewarded with extra food scraps and a dry place to sleep. The subject of the 23-year-old novelist's story—Iweala is American born of Nigerian descent—is gripping enough. But even more stunning is the extraordinarily original voice with which this tale is told. The impressionistic narration by a boy constantly struggling to understand the incomprehensible is always breathless, often breathtaking and sometimes heartbreaking. Its odd singsong cadence and twisted use of tense take a few pages to get used to, but Iweala's electrifying prose soon enough propels a harrowing read. (Nov. 8)
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From The New Yorker

This startling début by a young American-Nigerian writer follows the fortunes of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Iweala's acute imagining of Agu's perspective allows him to depict the war as a mesh of bestial pleasures and pain. As seen through Agu's eyes, machetes sound like music, and bodies come apart on roads so cracked that you can see "the red mud bleeding from underneath." Agu has a child's primitive drive that enables him to survive his descent into hell, and, despite the brutality he witnesses and participates in, to keep hold of something resembling optimism. The contrast between his belief in the future and the horrific descriptions of the world around him makes Agu a haunting narrator.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 142 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (November 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006079867X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060798673
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.6 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #855,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Uzodinma Iweala is the acclaimed author of Beasts of No Nation, which received the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Public Library Young Lions 2006 Fiction Award, and the 2006 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. In 2007, Iweala was selected as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. A graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, he lives in New York City and Lagos, Nigeria.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on December 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A young boy named Strika pulls another young boy named Agu out of his hiding place and into the middle of a senseless civil war in an unnamed African country. Agu is dragged before the Commandant, the ruthless leader of a troop of soldiers, and given a choice: join or die on the spot. It is a devil's bargain, since the price of Agu's joining and saving his own life is to hack another person to death with a machete. "I am not a bad boy," Agu reasons to himself (in so many words) over the killing. "I am a soldier now, and soldiers kill, so I am only doing a soldier's job and not being a bad boy."

Uzodinma Iweala's stunning first novel tells the story of Agu's indoctrination into an adult world of civil warfare, a world of fear and hardship and stomach-churning violence. More significant, Agu enters a world of loss - separation and possibly death of his family, loss of his faith, and loss of his childlike (and sexual) innocence. If he survives the war, regardless of its outcome, he is clearly scarred for life psychologically as well as physically.

Two aspects of BEASTS OF NO NATION contribute to its narrative power. The first is Iweala's ability to convey a sense of blind irrationality. He gives us no sense of what country we are reading about, we have no idea who the competing factions are or what they are fighting for (or against) -- we don't even know into which side Agu has been conscripted. At the same time, Iweala offers no plan of attack, no pattern to the Commandant's movements, and no military objective being sought.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Titled after the classic Fela Kuti album, this debut novella from the son of Nigerian immigrants tackles the horror of child soldiers with mixed results. In an anonymous West African country torn apart by civil war, a young boy named Agu is dragged from his hiding place by rebels destroying a village and given the traditional choice: Join or die. In the harrowing scene, his initiation into the rebel forces involves killing a screaming man with a machete. In psychological self-protective logic rather unlikely for a young boy, he tells himself that since he is now a soldier, he is only doing his job by killing. Agu has no clue what the civil war is about or what constitutes an enemy, he is simply another weapon in the hands of the charismatic brutal leaders, pointed toward the enemy and told to kill. Of course, when humanity is degraded to the point children are forced into soldiering, the reasons why aren't really of any relevance, and Iweala is wise to avoid trying to explain the context for Agu's nightmare. Instead, the dislocation of his kidnapping is felt all the more, as his rebel unit wanders around, apparently aimlessly, often on the brink of starvation. Agu's experience is awful and certain scenes are moving, but it is somewhat lacking in drama or tension. There's a certain roteness to the story: gentle child (check), sexual abuse (check), flashbacks to better times (check), carnage (check), caring Western aid worker (check), triumph of the human spirit (check). Agu narrates his tale in a kind of pidgin English that will either enchant or enervate the reader -- I found it exceedingly tiresome, inconsistent, and artificial. It is tragic that child soldiers exist, however to truly move the reader, fiction has to work a little harder than this does.Read more ›
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Joe Sherry on May 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
By the time Beasts of No Nation was published it was the subject of mass critical acclaim. I had read reviews that had nothing but good things to say about the novel that that it was an important work by a new author. Because it is a novel set in Africa the first association is automatically Achebe, because any African set novel written by an African will always be compared to Achebe. Beasts of No Nation was called a very strong debut. I'm of two minds. The first mind is totally and completely impressed by Iweala's work here. He has written a brief novel with very raw power about something we in America almost never read about in fiction or non-fiction: How is it that a young man or even a boy would join one of these militia's in Africa and go on killing rampages and act as a private army? What drives these men to do such barbaric things? Beasts of No Nation gives us one possible answer and as brutal as the militias are to the commonly perceived victims, the brutality extends to the militia itself. There is a veneer of a haven that the militia extends, but it is tenuous at best and Uzodinma Iweala shows all sides of the brutality where the humanity is stretched as thin as it could possibly be and still call itself human.

My other mind is far less impressed by the actual craft of writing employed in this novel. The book reads as if it were written in the voice of an African who does not speak English very well and so is stating things in a broken English that feels appropriate to the character and the story, but is also distracting. Because the author is a Harvard graduate with honors for his writing, I choose to believe that the style of the novel is a conscious choice rather than his own broken English.
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