A story about a boy.
A story about a chain of interruptions.
A story about the interrupted life of a boy.
Saah Millimono in this debut novel, recounts the life of a boy, Tarnue, before, during and after the civil war in Liberia. Tarnue is both the protagonist and narrator in the book. He gives the accounts of his life, predominantly his childhood, which is characterized by a series of discontinuance.
The story begins from a positive note when Tarnue lived with his parents in New Georgia Estate where he had a pretty normal childhood before his parents decided to cut this short. His normal then become a nightmare when he was forced to contend with an aunt form hell in a place he would call home before his life was rudely disrupted once again. However, this new home was not all bad. It is there that he encountered love in the most unexpected ways.
The civil war interrupted the life of Tarnue in the most significant manner and this covers majority of the narration in the book. Charles Taylor, a former government official, who was due to be charged for stealing government funds, broke out of prison in the United States and started a rebel group- National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). This was the beginning of the dark days in the life of Tarnue. The rebels were anti-government and thus their invasion into Liberia sparked a civil war between the rebels and the government. The civilians, of course, bore the heaviest burden of this animosity.
In the course of the war, Tarnue lost. He lost the hands that fed him. He lost his future dreams. He lost the house that sheltered him. He lost the love of his love. And he lost himself. He was no longer Tarnue but ‘Rebel baby’. This was the persona he acquired when he was forced into the rebel army and became a child soldier who killed to survive. The excerpt vividly describes the reality he lived as ‘Rebel Baby’.
“But we had no choice – most of us were already stuffed full of opium, hardly with a clear idea about why we were fighting, made to bear AK-47 rifles and to think to ourselves only as killing machines. And so when you had a gun and a few bullets you had to thank God. For at least you could not then go the way of the many innocent people who were being killed like flies all over country. Besides, with your gun and bullets you could get food and freedom.”
Boy Interrupted is more than a story. Saah Millimono, using the life of Tarnue unearths certain realities that are often exposed in times of tragedy. He brought to light the division that can be caused by ethnicity, the pureness of true love, the cruel claws of war, the betrayal that comes about in times of desperation and the elusive nature of human life. It also a lesson in history as the narration of the war contains factual incidences which actually occurred during the Liberian Civil War. The sections mentioning Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, the NPFL and Economic Community Cease-Fire Monitoring Group, (ECOMOG) are all factual.
Remember the threefold threshold in determining whether a book appealed the reader in me? No? Let me refresh your memory. It is either the story, the writing or the characters. This debut of Saah Millimono told a story and, in my opinion, lacked in character development and mastery of language. Boy Interrupted is a good book. Not a great one. It is however an easy and interesting read and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light and quick read laced with a lesson in African history.
PS: Boy Interrupted was the first runner-up of the Kwani? Manuscript Project after Kintu by Jennifer Nansubugua Makumbi. I also noted that Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo was shortlisted for the prize.
Interestingly, having read all three books, Stay with Me comes at the top for me, followed by Kintu andthen Boy Interrupted.
Has anyone read all the three books? Am I the only one questioning the Kwani? judges.