Beasts of No Nation Summary

Uzodinma Iweala

Beasts of No Nation

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Beasts of No Nation Summary

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Beasts of No Nation is a 2005 novel by Nigerian-American writer and physician, Uzodinma Iweala. His debut work takes its title from a 1989 album of the same name by the Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. The book had its roots in the author’s creative writing thesis at Harvard. In 2006, Iweala won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award  and the following year was recognized as one of the twenty best young American novelists by Granta magazine. The country in which the story takes place is not named in the book, which is told in the first person voice.

The novel tells the story of a West African boy named Agu, who is forced to become a child soldier. As war arrives in his small village, his mother and sister are evacuated by United Nations peacekeepers, but Agu and his father are forced to remain and join in the battle with the other men in the village. The men quickly realize that the situation has only one possible outcome: that they will all die. They attack anyway, although Agu’s father has him run away. The London Review of Books said of Agu’s character, “It’s not surprising that Agu doesn’t understand the larger political purpose of all this: he is, after all, only a child.”

Although he follows his father’s order and leaves to go into hiding, Agu is found by some soldiers and they make him join in their rebellion. As an initiation rite, their commander orders him to kill an unarmed man. Now prematurely forced into adulthood, Agu thinks about his past. He recalls dreaming of becoming a doctor, and of how he always enjoyed school and reading. He remembers reading the Bible and thinks that the war games he played with his friends are nothing like the actual thing. At first he believes that he will incur the wrath of God for killing others, but then he convinces himself that he is doing the work that God wants him to, as it is what soldiers are expected to do in wars. He strikes up a friendship with Strika, a mute boy. Together they experience the horrors of war.

As time passes and becomes a blur, Agu loses any sense of how much time has elapsed since leaving his childhood behind and becoming a man at war. He would like to stop the unending chain of killings but he knows that if he stops, he will be killed by the commander. Agu and the other men have little food, and eat whatever they can find, from rats to small animals to people. They eat everything raw, for fear that starting a fire will attract attention. The water available to them is known to be contaminated. Agu, along with other child members of the battalion, are raped by the commander. Agu does not resist this abuse, as he fears being killed if he does. When the commander takes the battalion to the village in which he was born they go to a brothel. When a prostitute stabs the commander’s second in command officer as he is beating her, he is replaced by another soldier called Rambo. This man is so called because of his thirst for blood.

When Rambo stages a successful revolt against the commander, Agu is finally able to escape the army. He and the other soldiers who have disbanded try to find their way home, with Agu eventually going off on his own. He makes his way to a missionary shelter that a preacher and a white woman run, where he gets clothing, food, and rest. In time, his strength and health return. In the aftermath of his experiences at war, Agu no longer finds any strength or inspiration in the Bible. He thinks of all of the crimes he committed during the war and resolves to become a doctor so that he might be able to atone for his sins by saving lives.

The Guardian wrote of Beasts of No Nation, “It’s an apocalyptic piece. Everything in it is a kind of stripped-back fact, though carefully controlled images of pointless sacrifice, starved people and spoiled meat recur throughout, and images of soldiers shift from pride to horrific sexual degradation. It is a work of fevered mourning. Its final chapter, with Agu in a fantasyland of rehabilitation, is tremendous; it is as if the whole book existed to point up the terrible lostness in its very last line. It reads, in all its truth, like fable-as if Amos Tutuola had been mated with Isaac Babel. Its brutality is unendurable, and at the same time the life of the voice of it provides all the moral analysis there is. As terrifying as this pure, ruined child-voice is, Iweala suggests, a silence here would be much more terrifying.”