Saturday, February 28, 2009

Allah is not Obliged - Ahmadou Kourouma

The full, final and completely complete title of my bullshit story is: Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth. Okay. Right. I better start by explaining some stuff.

First off, Number one . . . My name is Birahima and I'm a little nigger. Not 'cos I'm black and I'm a kid. I'm a little nigger because I can't talk French for shit. That's how things are. You might be a grown-up, or old, you might be Arab, or Chinese, or white, or Russian — or even American — if you talk bad French, it's called parler petit nègre — little nigger talking — so that makes you a little nigger too. That's the rules of French for you."
thus, starts this magnificent novel by this Ivory Cost writer, about the war ravaged Western Africa.

Birahima, "the fearless , blameless street kid" , narrates his experience during his journey through the war affected countries as a "child soldier , small soldier, soldier-kid", under multiple warloads , in his raw, foul mouthed , unsympathetic narrative, using various dictionaries for help (Larousse, a Petit Robert, a Glossary of French Lexical Particularities in Black Africa and a Harrap's, picked up towards the end of his travel).

After the death of his mother, who as he describes, "moved on her arse like a caterpillar", after her leg is amputated ( because her soul was savouring on her on body) , "the fearless blameless street kid" has to leave his home and go in search of his aunt who presumably lives in Liberia. The once sorcerer ( gri-gri) , criminal, money multiplier Yacouba, "the crippled crook" agrees to take him there. As is the case with in any journey through Liberia, the truck they were travelling was also intercepted by the Child Soldiers of a Liberian warload and he end up as a child soldier in their camp. Few desertions and in certain cases the deaths of the chiefs, make him and Yacouba to travel across the countries of Liberia,Ivory Cost and Sierra Leone in search of his aunt, associating with various factions as a child soldier in the process.

Even though it brings strong memories of other memoirs of child soldier ( like "A Long Way Gone" by Ismael Beah ), the difference here is in the narrative and the fictional writing qualities. While the writer uses the child soldier as the central character and the protagonist , we often listens to a strong political and social writer taking over the narration. That is also a draw back of the book, where many a times, the writing takes a turn, which to me is in-comprehensible to a 12 year old boy.

The real ( various war-leaders of Liberia , Sierra Leone and other heads of states) and the fictional characters comes alive in his story. The reality and the fiction are very closely interlinked. Very political, tragic novel about the human crisis in Africa. The the author does not mince any words, literally abusing the war lords, the international agencies, the peace keeping force and the people with all his strong conviction. He describe peace keeping forces as " when a country is allowed to send soldiers into another country to kill innocent victims in their own country, in their own villages, in their own huts, sitting on their own mats."

"The peace keeping forces didn't keep the peace, they don't take any unnecessary risks. They weren't bothered about details, they just fired at random, they fired shells at the people doing the attacking and at the people being attacked. They bombed right into the crowd , into the chaos. In a single day , they produced loads of innocent victims, more victims than a whole week of rival factions just fighting with each other."

While the economics could be the real motive behind the tribal war, what is at hand is a humanitarian crisis. "All the villages along the way were deserted, one hundred percent deserted. That's the way it goes in a tribal war ; everyone abandons the villages where humans live and go and live in the forests where the wild beasts live. Wild beasts have a better life that people."

The story also takes us through the multiple individuals whom the boy meets and interacts, which also gives you an insight to the people involved and affected by the on going war. As on of the boy reasons him being a child soldier :
"Next morning when there was no more noise , the children dared to go back to the family huts, to find out his fathers throat cut, his brothers throat cut, his mother and sister raped and their heads bashed in. All your relatives, close and distant , dead. And when you have got no one left on earth, no father , no mother, no brother, no sister, and you are really young, just a little kid, living in some fucked-up country where everyone is cutting everyone's throat, what do you do ?
You become a child-soldier of course, a small soldier, a child-soldier so you can have lots to eat and cut some throats yourself; that's all your only option.

Fascinating novel by this Ivory Cost writer. Interesting use of languages and style, at times getting into a political commentary ( where the author takes over from the kid who is narrating) , some nice poetic repetitive use of phrases ( you see this in many places) makes it a good read. While it makes a strong political and humanitarian crisis statement, here is also a superb writer using a non-standard language and mixing the local words ( for which he gives us the translation, mostly for local abuses) and with few amusing use of repetitive phrases and sentences.
Allah is not Obliged
Ahmadou Kourouma
( Translated by Frank Wynne)
Anchor Books
215 Pages
Rs 455
Further Read : wordswithoutborders , Guardian

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