Book Review: Allah is Not Obliged
Book Reviewed by Thumper
’The full, final and completely complete title of my bullshit story is: Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth.’
And so begins the last novel written by African contemporary author Ahmadou Kourouma. The novel is the story of a young 10 year old child-soldier who fought in the battles of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Filled with humor, violence, politics and horror, Allah Is Not Obliged, is a novel that grabbed my attention with its humor and held it in a death grip hold while it took me through the hells of war as seen through the eyes of a child. Kourouma was able to convey the stark reality of the fighting in Liberia and Sierra Leone that shocked, appalled and tickled me, often times at the same time. Allah Is Not Obliged is a novel of the age, destined to become a classic.
With his father long dead and his mother having recently died due to a large flesh eating tumor, ten year old Birahima is officially an orphan. After his mother's death, it was decided that Birahima should leave his home village in the Ivory Coast to live with his Aunt Mahan in Liberia. Birahima is to be escorted to his aunt's home by Yacouba, a fleeing thief and con man. When Birahima and Yacouba crossed the Liberian border, they are forced into joining a militia outfit, thus the beginning of Birahima's tale as a child-soldier. Through the blood, death, hunger, childhood giggles and disappointment, Birahima's story unfolds. The novel is told not only in a voice that has not seen enough of the world, as well as through young eyes that have seen too much of it.
I loved Allah Is Not Obliged! The characters, the pacing, the storyline, the narration are all pitch perfect. The novel is without flaws. The character Birahima is a fully developed 10 year old boy. He is highly intelligent and a bit on the arrogant side, and he knows it. Birahima has a smart-mouth and isn't afraid to use it, which made him an excellent narrator for the novel. What most impressed me with Kourouma's creation of Birahima is that throughout the novel. Birahima would say a certain passage, or speak on the thought he had during a certain situation, instantly it reminded me that a child was talking.
Kourouma used a clever device in keeping the image of Birahima's age strong. Every so often, Birahima would use one of the four dictionaries that he has in order to explain the meaning of certain words, mixed in with Birahima's commentary on the word or term. I loved it! One, the youth of Birahima stayed fresh in my mind. Second, hell, it saved me time from looking the words up myself.
Kourouma does get political in the novel. I do not see how he could not. How else could Kourouma tell a tale about a 10 year old soldier, who gets high on hard drugs in order to kill anyone with an AK-47 machine gun, without providing the whole political backdrop in which the story unfolds? I am confident in saying that I'm not the only one ignorant on the political climate in some of the African countries, fractions warring against other fractions, political coups, and warlords.
Allah Is Not Obliged is a powerful novel. Only the fact that Kourouma is not an American is the only obstacle preventing me from calling Allah Is Not Obliged the great American Novel. The novel is the complete package: a likable central character, narration that is easy on the eyes and ears, laughter, violence, all wrapped in an overall political statement. Lastly, but most importantly, Allah Is Not Obliged is based in humanity, the many facets of humanity, which makes the novel timeless; thereby, necessary.