Song For night by Chris Abani
Even with the knowledge that there are some sins too big for even God to forgive, every night my sky is still full of stars; a wonderful song for night. Trained as a human mine detector, a boy soldier in West Africa witnesses and takes part in unspeakable brutality. At 12 his vocal cords are cut to prevent him from screaming and giving away his platoon’s presence, should he be blown up. Awaking after an explosion to find that he’s lost his platoon, he traces his steps back through abandoned villages and rotting corpses – and through his own memories – in search of his comrades. The horror of past events is relived and gradually come to terms with as he finds some glimmers of hope and beauty in this nightmarish place.
Firstly, let me say how beautiful the cover is on this novel. The falling skulls and feathers are beautiful. Secondly, I should state that the novel does centre around a character named ‘My Luck’. Who is a child soldier in West Africa. The novel is not overly graphic in its depictions of violence. It deals with violence and brutality but has been done in an intelligent manner and not to shock the reader.
‘What you hear is not my voice’
The novel reads like the internal thoughts of My Luck, similar to a journal of his thoughts. After waking up alone and abandoned, he attempts to make his journey back to his platoon. But the longer he is separated from them the more he becomes aware of his own wrong doing and the evil that surrounds him.
‘It is not good to be alone in a war for long. It radically decreases your chances of survival’
My Luck is 15yrs old, he has been a child soldier since he was 12yrs old. The violence has seeped into every part of his soul and he can no longer process his personal journey. That is, until he is separated from his platoon.
‘None of us can remember the hate that led us here’
My Luck joined up at 12yrs old. He was fuelled by revenge, grief and pain.
After witnessing the murder of his own beloved mother.
‘Every star is a soul, every soul is a destiny meant to be lived out’
My Luck talks you through his journey from young pre-pubescent boy, to trained killer. Beginning with a scene where starving villages turned to cannibalism for food.
‘After three years of civil war nothing is strange anymore’
He talks about the hierarchy in the group and their leader nicked John Wayne. After their training the soldiers are to have their vocal chords severed. So that their screams can not be heard and give away their location. This is just the beginning of the brutality inflicted upon these children.
‘What they couldn’t know was that in the silence of our heads, the screams of those dying around us were louder than if they still had their voices’
He talks of their and their enemies haste to lay landmines so that in the end. Neither side of the war, knows where they are. He is tortured by his past and who he has become.
‘We followed orders, did what we were told’
‘I realise the fire burning in me is shame; shame and fear’
He discusses the culture and is able to demonstrate some understanding. But at times appears to be immature and emotionally stunted. He may know his way around an AK47, but what he needs most is a hug.
As a mother of two young sons, 11yrs and 6yrs old. My heart ached. I didn’t even like it when My Luck lit a cigarette, because in my eyes he is a child that deserves a childhood. But My Luck is not getting a childhood. He is getting a life of violence and despair.
Given the option of ‘rape or die’ by John Wayne, one finally time too many. He puts a bullet in his head and assumes the role of platoon leader. My Luck has no appetite for rape, despite the evil atrocities of war he has committed.
What My Luck speaks of most is his mother.
‘If we are the great innocents in this war, then where did we learn all the evil we practice’
The novel is 138 pages and is one of the deepest novels I have read this year. It packs an emotional edge that I have not come across before. The last page touched my heart and I wanted to cry for this boy deprived of a childhood and a mother’s love.
The novel deals with a harrowing subject matter but provides multiple thought-provoking points. It would be ideal for book groups and possibly college or young adults to debate. I don’t think I will forget My Luck in a hurry and I am off to find out about the other novels written by the author. 5*