Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala [in Library Journal]
Originally published in 2004, then 23-year-old Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel – which began as the author’s Harvard senior thesis under the direction of Jamaica Kincaid – reappears 11 years later in two additional incarnations: as an acclaimed film directed by Cory Fukunaga and this mesmerizing audio production narrated by Simon Manyonda. (A 2006 version was read by Nyambi Nyambi.)
Manyonda’s clipped, staccato voice seamlessly alternates between innocence and horror as young Agu relates the story of his not-yet-teenage life. Before he was forced to become a soldier, Agu was someone’s son, someone’s brother, a loyal friend, an eager student.
His childhood viewpoint, which varies from bewilderment to resignation, fittingly reflects the impossibility of comprehending a war without sides, justification, or reason. Agu holds onto what little humanity he has left, even as survival means committing heinous acts while he is victimized again and again by vicious adults. Forced to become a “beast of no nation,” he must somehow continue to believe that he is “not a bad boy.”
Verdict: Beasts is unrelenting terror. Knowing that some 100,000 to 300,000 young children lived this nightmare is reason enough not to turn away.