It is often hard, when reading about unimaginable horror, to be subjective. One is reading a book about real things that actually happened, and continue to happen, in the most appalling of ways. One must therefore love the writing, because to not do so is to downgrade the experiences described.
So it is an absolute pleasure to read a book that DOES describe a sickening nightmarish world, but is also a damn good novel, because one can wax lyrical about it without feeling one is doing so in order to not appear heartless.
Beneath the Darkening Skies in the debut novel of film maker Majok Tulba. Tulba was born in South Sudan, and when he was nine was measured against an AK47 by the Sudanese Armed Forces but was thankfully too small to be “recruited” as a child soldier. Now living in Australia, Tulba tells the story of what his life might have been had he been a couple of inches taller at the time.
Obinna, a clever boy who dreams of being a doctor and playing the guitar, is forced to join “The Rebels”, led by Generals and Captains who describe themselves as freedom fighters, when they invade his village and slaughter his family. As he is led through fields covered in landmines, beaten and humiliated, Obinna tried to hold on to who he is, and not become as monstrous as his captives. But in a bitter world of war, where rape is a weapon and boys are trained killers, Obinna must hold fast if he is not to be broken.
This book is a very very very hard read. Child soldiers, who seem to have occasional bouts of coverage in the news, were to me disturbing pictures of boys wearing army trousers and carrying guns before reading Mulba’s novel. This book shows what a life of constant fear would be like in vivid stark detail. Perhaps the most possibly triggering part of this life is the treatment of the girls the rebels kidnap, who are used as sex-slaves and abused by both the leaders and boys alike.
The characters aren’t over developed and the book darts about a bit, but this only adds to the impact of how unreal a life Obinna is living. Structurally as well the book is excellent, with moments of real tension and a proper hold-your-breath eyes wide ending that makes Lord of the Flies appear insipid. In fact if I were to ask Tulba a question it would be in the Lord of the Flies comparison is intended, because if it is, it is beautifully done.
A hard, but needed read, that makes you think but also excites you and carries you along. This book deserves to do very well and considering I only heard of it through a bookseller bringing it to work it deserves a hell of a lot more press than it has recieved. I was nose-to-spine and read the last half of the book in a night and although it is very upsetting I am very glad I did. I’ve spent the last week finding out more about what can be done to help end children being forced into becoming soldiers and would like to highlight the work been done by the War Child charity to raise awareness of the lives of these children and how they are attempting to rebuild them.