As civil war rages in an unnamed West-African nation, young Agu is recruited into a unit of guerilla fighters and his daily reality spins downward into inexplicable brutality, primal fear, and loss of selfhood.
Iweala...gives his hero a voice that is unliterary yet poetic, sometimes sliding into the present tense when describing the past … After only a few pages, this idiosyncratic style, at first so awkward, comes to seem quite natural; the story is unimaginable without it. Iweala, although still in his early 20's, knows instinctively to avoid bolstering an uneducated narrator's tale with pointedly skilled phrases of his own. Instead, he allows Agu to speak in a simple, authentic way, which can produce startlingly original expressions … The acute characterization, the adroit mixture of color and restraint, and the horrific emotional force of the narrative are impressive. Still more impressive is Iweala's ability to maintain not only our sympathy but our affection for his central character.
Beasts of No Nation is totally and shockingly alive from its very first paragraph … This blend of immediacy, innocence, sensual apprehension and tiny animalistic nuance starts small but within pages has gravitated into a cartoon fastness — ‘KPAWA! He is hitting me’ — and a very graphic cartoon foulness, highlighting both the smallness of the child and the monstrousness of what he finds himself doing … 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 reads, in all its truth, like fable — as if Amos Tutuola had been mated with Isaac Babel.
Uzodinma Iweala has written a novel about the perversity of war, and the fragility of humanity. It's all the more shattering viewed through the eyes of a schoolboy who is both terrified and seduced by the meaningless slaughter which first claims his father, then his own childhood … Iweala graphically details Agu's atrocities, but never fails to relay, with aching poetry, the most shocking act of all — an unwilling child plunged into the physical horrors of war. Yes, the evil here is banal. Yet it is also the corrosive agent gnawing at the divided soul of a boy, who seeks both survival and redemption, in a nation shrouded by menace, and soaked with the blood of its own people.