Digital Participation: “Radiance of Tomorrow” by Ishmael Beah
I read the book Radiance of Tomorrow, Ishmael Beah’s second book after his memoir was released a few years ago about his experiences as a child soldier. Amazon wasn’t letting me most a review directly on their site for some reason, so I’ll put my review on here.
Building off the story of life as a child soldier in the war in Sierra Leone when he was younger, Ishmael Beah returns respectably to his home in country in his sophomore novel, Radiance of Tomorrow. While it is notable that he is following up his memoir in novel form, his beautiful narrative voice is not lost with the new fictional characters.
The words float smoothly and gorgeously off the page in his unique translations of his native tongue, Mende, telling the tale of a scrappy group of war survivors who bit by bit return to their ravaged home village of Imperi for the sake of closure and possibly trying to avoid change as much as possible. The characters range drastically, from the respected elders Ma Kadie and Pa Moiwa who begin the novel by first arriving to their old village only to spend months simply clearing all the bones and human remains, to the educated teachers Bockarie and Benjamin who desire to make a difference in the children of the war, to the stoic and savage 18 year-old Colonel and his crew of young adults who have learned to scavenge and survive on their own.
There lies one of my few complaints of the novel: the blandness of most of the characters and their and their lack of dynamics, which ultimately leads to some predictability about the plot of the novel. However this does not take away at all from some of the beautiful themes throughout the story. I don’t think I’ve ever been so depressed and disheartened about the plot of a book, while simultaneously so filled with optimism and possibility.
The villagers who remain desire to rebuild their old small community to be as vibrant as it was before the war hit seven years prior, but they encounter endless obstacles that prevent true rebuilding. Between Benjamin and Bockarie’s exasperation with the corruption in the academic system that keeps away salaries and resources, or the police corruption that controls the town leaders, or the big industry mine that takes over all the town’s jobs and ultimately forces out what’s left of the ruins of Imperi.
But here is where the genius of Beah strikes repeatedly. Despite the continued depressing plot turns and the destruction of the beautiful Sierra Leone they used to know, he linguistically weaves hope into each turn of the chapter. In the wind the characters all notice throughout Sierra Leone, life and positivity is breathed into their spirits, as if to remind them, and the reader of the beautiful possibilities there could be in a new life.
All in all, Radiance of Tomorrow is an somewhat brilliant, but extremely important read. As the title implies, there is endless optimism and vast potential for what Sierra Leoneans could rebuild their country to be after the brutality of war for so long. The novel begins with those of the past trying to rebuild the past, but ends fittingly with those of future generations beginning to lay the first stones for the spectacular Sierra Leone they dream of.
A must read as a follow-up for those who read A Long Way Gone, themes of corruption and loss of innocence remain, but optimism is still restored.