Ishmael Beah

Radiance of Tomorrow

  • This summary of Radiance of Tomorrow includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Radiance of Tomorrow Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah.

Radiance of Tomorrow (2014), a novel by Ishmael Beah, describes life in the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s civil war, as villagers try to recover from trauma and rebuild their lives, even as capitalism and corruption seep in. Beah’s literary debut was the 2007 memoir, A Long Way Gone, detailing his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Beah moved to the United States when he was eighteen, finished high school, and completed a degree in political science. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee.

The prose is unusually figurative. Beah uses the poetic rhythm and imagery of his native language, Mende, in which natural phenomena are given anthropomorphic attributes. For example, the stars are described as “drowsy,” causing the sky to fall asleep in turn.

The story is set in the village of Imperi, once a peaceful, happy place. Now, in the wake of civil war, it is desolate. Seven years ago, Imperi was attacked without warning. Houses were burned to the ground and many villagers were massacred. But now, the survivors are coming back to reclaim their homes. Two village elders, Mama Kadie and Pa Moiwa, have spent those seven years in refugee camps. Now, they have returned. They are hungry, traumatized, and grieving all that they have lost. Pa Moiwa collects charred bones strewn around the remains of Imperi, and together they work to honor the dead and make the place habitable again.

Gradually, more villagers return, both locals and refugees from elsewhere in the country. They repair houses, gather supplies and resources, and the village elders tell the children stories of the past, passing down cultural wisdom. Orphans and child soldiers also come to Imperi, but they keep their distance, staying on the fringes of the village proper. They form a community of their own led by a man known as the Colonel, a strange, stoic figure. In one scene, Ernest, a former child soldier comes face-to-face with the villager Sila and his sons, whose hands Ernest had hacked off to prove his loyalty to the army. All of them freeze in recognition, unable to say a word to each other.

Two teachers, Bockarie and Benjamin, work to start a village school. They are compassionate, hard-working, and eager to ensure a better future for Imperi’s children. For a while, the village is peaceful and happy, a thriving community. But disruptive forces return to the village as well.

Before the war, a mining company operated nearby. Now, it comes back, along with greedy owners and investors, all white men, who care only about their profits. The mine takes over precious resources, like farmland and water, for its operations. The villagers’ drinking water is contaminated by runoff. The mine is a source of jobs, but it displaces farmers, forcing them to find work in the mine instead. Gradually, the mine consumes more jobs, leaving more and more villagers with no choice but to work for the mine that is tearing village life apart.

Bockarie and Benjamin work hard to make the school a success, but the children are skeptical of the benefits of education, pointing out that it hasn’t helped either of them achieve a better life: they’re here, in Imperi, struggling with everyone else. The teachers try to convince the children otherwise, but it isn’t easy. The government also doesn’t send them enough supplies for the students. Meanwhile, a greedy principal is misappropriating funds, seeing the school as a way for him to make money rather than a way to improve lives.

The school begins to require uniforms for its students. Not every family can afford to purchase the uniforms, or can only afford them for some children but not others. Benjamin himself can only afford to send two of his three children to school now. The third child, Abu, devises a way to continue learning regardless; he perches in a tree outside the classroom to observe and learn what he can.

Benjamin steals the principal’s ledger, showing proof that he is embezzling funds. The principal tries to threaten him, but Benjamin is unmoved, saying he has already experienced hell and is not afraid. The principal gives in to his demands, providing more supplies for the children.

Eventually, as the mining company takes over the village, Benjamin is forced to take a job at the mining company to provide for his family. He tries to remain hopeful that conditions will improve, and that he will be able to save more money for his children. Some villagers die in the mines; a young boy is electrocuted after touching a cable. The mining company offers his family a single bag of rice in compensation. The family is insulted, but forced to accept the rice because they need it to get by. A dredge falls on Benjamin, severely injuring him. He calls Bockarie to tell his friend he is dying. Bockarie passes the phone around to Benjamin’s family so they can say goodbye to him.

Eventually, the mining company decides to relocate the village so operations can continue. The company replaces the villagers’ homes with newer, smaller, less sturdy models. After Imperi is relocated, Bockarie and his wife, Kula, leave the village for good. They head to the capital, Freetown, where they must adjust to the harsh realities of city life. Freetown is overcrowded with refugees and run by a corrupt police force. Bockarie finds a job at a university, while Kula works as a receptionist. But just before their first paychecks are due, they are fired, leaving them with nothing. They don’t have money to buy food, but the Colonel arrives out of nowhere with food for the family. In spite of everything, Bockarie and Kula continue to hope for a better life.

Radiance of Tomorrow was critically acclaimed; the New York Times praised Beah’s “vivid details” but also noted the narration sometimes evades the psychological complexities of the scenes depicted. The book was longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.