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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library JournalLearn more
Ahmadou Kourouma is one of my favorite novelists, and in the rarified world of African literature his works stand out as gems. This work received plenty of critical acclaim in the French and francophone African media, and won a major literary prize. "Allah N'est Pas Oblige" is a very stark tale, told in the form of a first-person narrative by a West African child soldier recounting the horrors he has witnessed in his short lifetime. The narrator is essentially a window into events rather than a full character, although Kourouma makes his literary voice interesting by throwing in occasional dictionary references, as though the words were coming from someone just in the process of discovering them. This stylistic innovation, however, doesn't make up for the book's shortcomings. Its characters are simply foils to whom bad things must happen, and as such they aren't very interesting. The author plays fast and loose with recent African history, too, blaming the rise of Sierra Leone's RUF thugs on his old bete noir, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, and even putting the old man at a meeting with the RUF's commander in the late 1990s. Perhaps he has already forgotten that "Le Vieux" died in 1993... but anyway. My greatest disappointment is that there is almost none of Kourouma's usual satire or wit here. It is as though he set out to write a story "ripped from the headlines," taking advantage of the most shocking acts of brutality in West Africa's dirty postmodern wars (and there've been a lot) to pique the public's interest. This is a cheap trick, and it's beneath him, not to mention most of his readers. I finished "Allah N'est Pas Oblige" with a feeling of sadness, not only for child soldiers and their victims, but for one of my literary heroes whose career seems to have entered an uninspired, barren patch. Sometimes I wonder whether he had somebody ghost-write this book for him; I almost hope that he did.
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