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Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2014: Ishmael Beah's 2007 memoir A Long Way Gone described Beah's own experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. In Radiance of Tomorrow, his first novel, he examines what happens when the survivors of war try to return home. At first the refugees arrive like a trickle to their hometown, straggling into a place populated only by bones. Former enemies learn to live together, a school is established, and they begin to rebuild their village and their lives. But the world has changed since they were last there--the clash between tradition and the encroaching world is like a new war, particularly when a mining company moves into town. This novel hits several superlative notes: in the details that Beah chooses to share, in the characters he uses to tell the story, and in the universality of his tale. It is a memorable and emotionally resonant first novel, one that may mark the start of a major new novelist. --Chris Schluep --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
In his best-selling A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007), Beah wrote of his traumatic experience as victim and perpetrator in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Now he works with Human Rights Watch and UNICEF in New York, and in this searing first novel, he tells of a young immigrant returning with his family to his native village seven years after the recent civil war. He finds both hope and horror, the latter driven by the overwhelming internal corruption, the former by the resilience of the people he encounters. He sees skulls and chopped hands, the remains of massacre. But there is the wonder of clean drinking water. A foreign company’s diamond mining, supported by the government, is leaving the village people displaced, houses shattered, the air thick with pollution, ancient burial grounds destroyed. A parent must see her child go to bed hungry, night after night. How much will people do for jobs to feed their families? The power of the story is in the close-up, heartbreaking detail of the struggle for survival, the cruelty, and also the kindness. --Hazel Rochman --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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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.
Having spent some time in western Africa, the scenes are very familiar -- the countryside torn up at will by the mining companies, the parents struggling to pay their childrens' school fees, what passes for transport on what passes for roads, the welcome of a meal of cassava or rice with soup (sauce), the contrast between people looking out for themselves and people wanting to see their country modern and honest and communitarian. Ishmael Beah tells the stories of these people and this country in the tones of his native language, with full understanding of the cultural rifts brought by war and materialism. Through it all, hope for and trust in the radiance of tomorrow carries us through the painful, unspeakable moments. A thrilling book.
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A disappointment after the amazing first book by this author