Synopses & Reviews
Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on Earth.
These are the words of the boy soldier Birahima in the final masterpiece by one of Africa's most celebrated writers, Ahmadou Kourouma.
When ten-year-old Birahima's mother dies, he leaves his native village in the Ivory Coast, accompanied by the sorcerer and cook Yacouba, to search for his aunt Mahan. Crossing the border into Liberia, they are seized by rebels and forced into military service. Birahima is given a Kalashnikov, minimal rations of food, a small supply of dope and a tiny wage. Fighting in a chaotic civil war alongside many other boys, Birahima sees death, torture, dismemberment and madness but somehow manages to retain his own sanity.
Raw and unforgettable, despairing yet filled with laughter, Allah Is Not Obliged reveals the ways in which children's innocence and youth are compromised by war.
"The late Ivory Coast author and political activist Kourouma (Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote) writes with a brutal and obscene frankness reminiscent of Celine in this powerfully tragic novel about a West African child soldier who learns early that 'Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth.' Unsure if he's 10 or 12 years old, 'rude as a goat's beard' Birahima, a third-grade dropout, recalls how his once-beautiful mother became an amputee who 'moved on her arse like a caterpillar' and that he suspected her of being a soul-devouring sorceress. After her death, the boy is entrusted to a roguish shaman and sent to live with an aunt in Liberia. En route, they fall into the clutches of a warlord, and Birahima joins their forces as a boy soldier, witnessing and participating in all manner of savagery. Although Birahima's regurgitation of word definitions and chunks of West African history is awkward, this French import is a worthy if difficult read. And the popularity of the current Starbucks pick, the child soldier memoir A Long Way Gone, can't hurt sales potential." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n epic tale, a savage odyssey traveled by a cursed latter-day Huck Finn, with, at the end, neither home nor territory to escape to anywhere in sight." Booklist (Starred Review)
"As eye-catching as graffiti, but lacking the emotional power of Uzodinma Iweala's Beasts of No Nation (2006)." Kirkus Reviews
"A tour de force original, irreverent, brutal, funny, poetic in which history and myth are brilliantly evoked." The Independent (London)
"Shocking and deeply moving....An African Lord of the Flies." The Guardian (London)
"Allah Is Not Obliged
might have been a more satisfying book if Kourouma had tried harder to make Birahima's monologue more plausible, but it would not have been as thought-provoking and challenging, nor would it have been able to encompass as much as it does." Matthew Cheney, Rain Taxi
(read the entire Rain Taxi review
A powerful and affecting novel of Africa's child-soldiers, by French Africa's pre-eminent novelist.
Birahima is ten years old. He lives in the Ivory Coast. He is a soldier. In Ahmadou Kourouma's extraordinary novel, Birahima tells his story.
At the age of ten his mother dies and Birahima leaves his native village, accompanied by the sorcerer/crook Yacouba, to search for his aunt Mahan. Crossing the border into Liberia, they are seized by a rebel force and press-ganged into military service. Birahima is given a Kalashnikov, minimal rations of food, a small supply of dope and a tiny wage. Fighting in a totally chaotic civil war, and alongside many other boys, some no older than himself, Birahima sees death, torture, amputation and madness, but somehow manages to retain his own sanity.
Ahmadou Kourouma's masterpiece is powerful, terrible and frequently bitterly funny.
About the Author
Ahmadou Kourouma was born in the Ivory Coast in 1927. He was the author of the novels The Suns of Independence, Monnew, and Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote. Hailed as one of the leading African writers in French, he died in 2003.