Monday, August 25, 2008

No Nation, No Beast

Having read much in the genre of African Literature, I knew what to expect from Uzodinma Iweala's book Beasts of No Nation—things we Americans know absolutely nothing about in our, even those of us in the toughest of neighborhoods, in terms of capital S suffering. So the whole thing wasn’t really all that shocking, especially to anyone who has read a JM Coetzee novel (which are, in this reviewers opinion, along with Farah and, of course, Achebe, [who are all significantly more disturbing btw] the best of the bunch) despite the fact that that was one of the two things most people site in positive reviews.

The other thing, which in my opinion is way over the top, is Iweala’s voice. It is basically that of Okunkwo (the spelling here is, I am sure, butchered) from Things Fall Apart taken to the stereotypic extreme. These two things combined for what seemed to be a parody of the typical African novel that was written by a guy who, as one sees in the “P.S.” section of the book, is an American, born and raised.

To make the book more dubious still is the fact that the author is a child of extreme privilege unknown to almost everyone outside of the top 1% in the US, which I believe is telling in a profound way. (I mean what authority does he really have?). He ends up romanticizing Africa in a bizarre way; instead of writing about a small part of African culture that is unknown to us, he takes something he read and knows nothing of as a first hand experience and confirms what white elites think they know about what is going on in the “Dark Continent.” This sort of thing directly contrasts the work of Achebe, the one who not only began the literary movement, but also the one who brought it into the mainstream, thus obliterating (Achebe did) the lense through which English writers such as Denison and Conrad made us see the this strange place.

In that Iweala perpetuated the belief that Africa is incredibly violent and scary and inhumane and just completely FUBARed, I would have to call the book a “disappointment” in almost every way.

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