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Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel Hardcover – January 7, 2014
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In the Author's Note he explains the great tradition of storytelling in his native country and that his mother tongue Mende has a poetic way of speaking both of which he hopes to use in Radiance of Tomorrow:
Mende, is very expressive, very figurative, and when I write, I always struggle to find the English equivalent of things that I really want to say in Mende. For example, in Mende, you wouldn't say "night came suddenly"; you would say "the sky rolled over and changed its sides."
Beah is successful in his use of both the story telling techniques and his use of language it does in fact lull the reader, letting one forget the horrors of war and look for the radiance of tomorrow. This is a story of a people returning to their village and rebuilding, attempting to leave behind the sorrows and reclaim their home. The first to return to the village of Imepri are the elders, Mama Kadie and Pa Moiwa. The book begins:
"She was the first to arrive where it seemed the wind no longer exhaled. Several miles from town, the trees had entangled one another. Their branches grew toward the ground, burying the leaves in the soil to blind their eyes so the sun would not promise them tomorrow with its rays. It was only the path that was reluctant to cloak its surface completely with grasses, as though it anticipated it would soon end its starvation for the warmth of bare feet that gave it life.
The long and winding paths were spoken of as "snakes" that one walked upon to encounter life or to arrive at the places where life lived. Like snakes, the paths were now ready to shed their old skins for new ones, and such occurrences take time with the necessary interruptions. Today, her feet began one of those interruptions. It may be that those whose years have many seasons are always the first to rekindle their broken friendship with the land, or it may just have happened this way."
I wanted so much for the sorrows that I read of to be over. During the first third of the book, I found myself sobbing and yet so respectful of the spirit of these people who held so true to their essence through such difficult times, who revered their elders and look to them for guidance, who remained strangely quiet regarding the horrors of war to their children who were too young to know.
This time though the danger comes not from war but from a corporation involved in rutile mining, which is indeed a growing industry in Sierra Leone. We see the ways in which this corporation attacks the life and culture that the people of Imperi have so carefully rebuilt:
"The elders shake their heads with doubt, they knew they had to try, as there was more at stake than tradition. Tradition can live on only if those carrying it respect it--and live in conditions that allow the traditions to survive. Otherwise, traditions have a way of hiding inside people and leaving only dangerous footprints of confusion."
The story is both compelling and worrisome. It is not for someone who needs all the strings neatly tied and of course they are not neatly tied in Sierra Leone. I cannot help but admire Beah's skill as an author and sincerely hope to be reading more from him.
Mama Kadie cautiously enters the central path of her village, not sure what to expect, pondering on what has remained and who is still there or has come back like she does now. After the traumas, losses and devastation of the war she experiences profound emotions as she walks barefoot on the local soil, smells the scents of the land and watches and listens for every sound in the bushes. What will life have in store for her? The opening pages of Ishmael Beah's debut novel, "Radiance of Tomorrow", are achingly beautiful; his voice gentle and affecting, his deep emotional connection palpable with what he describes so colourfully. Having experienced international acclaim with his memoir, "A Long Way Gone", which recounts the story of a child soldier in Sierra Leone, with his new book he returns to his homeland, sharing with his readers the demanding and difficult path that the local people have to follow in their recovery from the brutal war and its many losses in life and livelihood. There is hope – radiance – for a better future but there are also many sacrifices to make: forgiving is not forgetting; rebuilding on ruins, literally, on the bones of loved ones is probably one of the most haunting challenges. Transposing the facts and realities of the aftermath of the Sierra Leonean war into a fictional framework carries its own challenges. At the same time, it gives the author a greater freedom of expression for exploring the tragedies and recoveries. Benefiting from his mother tongue's rich figurative language, Mende, Beah also conveys to us something of the soul of his home and way of thinking. In his language there is a deep connection between land, nature, cosmos and people that speaks through his wording and that also characterizes his in depth developed protagonists.
The first person Mama Kadie meets as she walks along the central paths of the village is Pa Moiwa, who resting on a log in the village square. Much time will be needed to absorb the enormity of what has happened, evidence of violence and death are visible everywhere. Pa Moiwa slowly turns around on hearing the voice of his old friend: his only question is "how she had brought her spirit into town and which route she had taken." "… I walked the path, as that is the way in my heart." There will be many days for them to carefully and gently peel away the layers that have hidden their experiences of the recent past. Every day more people arrive: returning displaced locals and desperate refugees from other parts of the country where survival is even more precarious. Mama Kadie, Pa Moiwa and, later, Pa Kainesi play a central role in the community, respected by everybody as the "elders". Young and old sit together in the village centre after a day's struggle to repair houses, fetch water and find food to cook; the elders are telling stories of the past with the children listening attentively: "It isn't about knowing the most stories, child. It is about carrying the ones that are most important and passing them along [from one generation to the next]…." Meanwhile, the younger adults sit apart working on plans how to find work and supplies to care for their families, among them Bockarie and Benjamin, both teachers, who will do everything in their power to ensure a brighter future for their children and others in the community.
Among the returnees are several former child soldiers and lost orphans who prefer to stay at a distance from the villagers but form an important component in the rebuilding of the village as all are coping with the emotional scars of their and the villagers' recent experiences. They form a small community of their own, led by the enigmatic "Colonel", a shadowy silent figure, who, nonetheless, finds ways to express his growing allegiance to his protégés and the villagers in unexpected ways.
There is a moment of almost idyllic peace in the community, but as is often the case in real life… it is the calm ahead of the storm. And the storm comes in the form of huge trucks and machinery and shouting people who appear to come from another world… The small mining company that had operated in the area before the war has come back with ambitious new owners and investors, who, with little regard to the needs and traditions of the villages nearby, take over the precious farmland and water resources for an ever expanding open-pit mining operation. The company, endorsed by the provincial politicians, is dividing the community physically and emotionally. Their behaviour provokes not only the elders. They bring the worst of city life into this remote region of the country. On the other hand they become the only employer in the villages around. Conflicts are unavoidable and there can only be few winners.
Ishmael Beah's novel is beautifully written, absorbing and engaging at many levels. His central characters stay in your mind long after you closed the book. He succeeds in telling a story that balances humanity and grace on the one hand with the harsh reality of life in a country that has come out of a brutal civil war and is faced with a devastated economy. Traditional ways of life are challenged and as readers we can only hope that the wisdom of the elders can continue in the mind of the younger generations and that they will learn from the many stories their culture and communities have to offer. [Friederike Knabe]
Changes after the war challenge this richness and Mr. Beah follows several families in the town. There are the struggles that always seem to be foisted on the poor, and he ultimately tracks one family's fight to overcome these trials. Ultimately, this is a book of hope that impresses the reader with the purity of heart can be maintained in the face of all sorts of adversity, often the worst man can impart to man.
The writing is rich. Mr. Beah wrote in a preface the difficulty of translating many phrases from his language(s) into English. he brings the richness of those languages and philosophy directly into his writing. The result is often akin to poetry. Highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A disappointment after the amazing first book by this author