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The King's Rifle: A Novel Paperback – March 24, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

One of the young African men in this WWII novel is so proud of his new military boots that he hangs them by the laces around his neck and starts a fashion trend in his village, providing one of many powerful and poignant images that fill Bandele's distinctive first novel. The story chronicles the Chindits, a band of African soldiers enlisted by the British military and sent to Burma to fight the Japanese. Among them is Farabiti Banana, a 14-year-old Nigerian who becomes a soldier to follow the lead of his friends and hopes the military will make him a man. Once out of training, life becomes increasingly dangerous for Banana and his eight fellow Chindits, and by the novel's climax, he's become a man, but at a great cost. Bandele favors a straight-ahead style fueled by imagery and wordplay, and his perspective on heavily traveled literary territory is refreshing and even endearing. (Apr.)
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From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—For advanced teen readers with an appreciation of history, The King's Rifle pulls back the curtain on a theater of World War II long neglected by historians and writers alike, Burma (now called Myanmar). What Bandele reveals is a vivid, brutal, surreal, sometimes funny, tangled world described in language that can be as beautiful and mysterious as the Burmese jungle. This is not a book to be lightly undertaken, as characters have multiple names and complex backgrounds, and speak in dialects. Ali Banana is the Nigerian protagonist who is 17…no, 16…no, 13, actually, as he confesses when pressed by his new commanding officer. He is a boy in the man's world of the Chindits, the rapid-reaction groups formed by the British Army to rattle the Japanese by beating them at their own specialty of jungle warfare. Ali accepts the "invitation" of "Kingi Joji of Ingila"—King George of England—to fight in "Boma." He is told that "wanting to be a man is no sin" and that "killing men does not make a man of you," but in the end, when he must do his comrade one last great favor, he looks like a man of 50. A sophisticated, evocative, and haunting coming-of-age story.—Kate Dunlop Seamans, Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; 1 Original edition (March 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061582662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061582660
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,899,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Beverly Jackson VINE VOICE on April 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
In The King's Rife by Biyi Bandele, we are taken into the maddening world of World War II African soldiers who fought for the British against the Japanese in Burma. These soldiers were part the Allied Special Forces, known as Chindits, named after the Burmese mythical winged lion. While this was a diverse group of soldiers, little is known about the African soldiers and their contributions to the war effort. The story also centers on the coming-of-age of Ali Banana.

Ali Banana, a thirteen year-old, who is indentured as apprentice to a cruel blacksmith, decides on a whim to follow his older friends as they march off to join the British to fight a war they know little about. Ali's superior know that he is underage, but they are not aware how young he really is and is soon shipped off to be trained in India in preparation of being dropped behind enemy lines in the Burma jungle. While Ali is a fictional character, the horrors of war we witness through his eyes are all based on factual events.

The author's background as a playwright is evident as the novel reads like a play with dialogue setting the scenes for us. The scenes were played out in my mind as if I were watching a play. One of the most effective uses of dialogue in the book is in ordinary conversations among the men as they wait for the nightly attacks from the Japanese. Through these conversations we learn of the differences among the West Africans that are part of the Chindits, in their religion and tribal differences. The author also addresses the issues of race and class that existed during the time period, but does it in an implicit manner.

But this is primarily a military story and the author has done his research on the techniques and cruelties from both the British and Japanese.
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Format: Paperback
Like most Americans, I know almost nothing about the Burmese theater in World War II. (However, many years ago I did read George McDonald Fraser's excellent memoir of it, Quartered Safe Out Here, so I suppose I do know more than most.) This slender book is set mostly in that theater and, inspired by the author's father's own service in Burma as part of the King's African Rifles, seeks to both remind the reader of its relevance and the role of the many West African troops (mostly Nigerian) who were sent there to fight on behalf of the Allied forces.

The result is a bit of an odd duck -- more a series of sketches than a fully realized narrative. The book is littered with nuggets of history, research, and championing that, while interesting don't feel quite like they belong. So, for example, we learn enough intriguing details about "Janan" (General) Wingate that one's interest is perhaps piqued enough to go seek out biographies such as Christopher Sykes's Orde Wingate and Trevor Royle's Orde Wingate: Irregular Soldier. Or we learn the technical aspects of jungle siegecraft or ambuscade. But at the heart of the book is 13-year-old soldier Farabiti "Ali Banana" whose adventures paint a sketch of the trials and tribulations faced by young soldiers like the author's father.

Through him, we follow the recruitment, training, and deployment of the West African Rifles to Burma as part of the "Chindit" forces sent to harass the Japanese rear lines.
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Format: Paperback
The brief synopsis on the back cover of 'The King's Rifle' describes it as the 'first novel to depict the experiences of black African soldiers in the Second World War.' After reading this, the first thought I had was of the Humphrey Bogart vehicle 'Sahara', and the character of Sgt Maj. Tambul of the 4th Sudanese Battalion. Although Tambul's character was no doubt carefully crafted to create a positive impact, I still remember Rex Ingram's representation as dignified and somewhat exotic too - certainly favorable enough to take a chance on 'The King's Rifle'. Pulling the book from out of the dollar bargain bin didn't hurt either.

'The King's Rifle' follows a thirteen going-on-fourteen year old young Nigerian who enlists to fight the 'Janpani' in 'Kingi Joji's' war. Instead of North Africa, Farabiti Ali Banana and his fellow Nigerians are flown to Burma, where he becomes a member of the Chindits - small groups led by British officers designed to go behind the enemy's lines and harass the Japanese Imperial forces as much as possible. Despite this purpose, the Nigerians find themselves defending a stronghold in the jungle that comes under brutal attack nightly for weeks. Finally, as a member of a raid patrol that goes horribly wrong, Ali must find his way back to base without losing his mind to the terrors of war and the jungle both.

The author, Biyi Bandele, drew from his father's experiences when creating this tale, and together with the paucity of information available about this aspect of the war makes 'The King's Rifle' a worthwhile read - especially for those who are interested in every detail of WWII. Even for those who are only marginally interested, it is quick and clear, often humorous, and sometimes harrowing. However, Mr.
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