Review: Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba

Title: Beneath the Darkening Sky

Author: Majok Tulba

Published: Penguin Australia July 2012

Synopsis: When the rebels come to Obinna’s village, they do more than wreak terror for one night. Lining the children up in the middle of the village, they measure them against the height of an AK-47. Those who are shorter than the gun are left behind. Those who are taller are taken. Obinna and his older brother Akot find themselves the rebel army’s newest recruits.  But while Akot almost willingly surrenders to the training, Obinna resists, determined not to be warped by the revolution’s slogans and violence. In the face of his vicious captain’s determination to break him, Obinna finds help in a soldier called Priest, and in the power of his own dreams. Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 27 to 28, 2012 — I own a copy {Netgalley/Penguin}

My Thoughts:

I learnt about this title from a brief interview with Get Reading organiser Cheryl Akyl and Majok Tulba and was immediately interested. When Tulba was nine the Sudanese Armed Forces invaded his village and murdered many its people, including members of Majok’s family. Separated from his parents during the attack, Majok fled the village with his younger brother, and other boys too small to be forced into the SAF. He spent most of his time moving between refugee camps along the border of South Sudan and Uganda before being granted an Australian visa in 2001 aged just sixteen. Beneath The Darkening Sky is a compelling fictionalised account of what may have happened to him had he been forced into service, a fate that is all too real for some.

Obinna, having been forced to witness the beheading of his father and the rape and beating of his mother, is bundled into a truck, along with his older brother and friends, forcibly recruited to serve the Sudanese rebel army. These scenes of brutal violence, witnessed through the eyes of an 11 year old boy, are a confronting launch into Africa’s civil war and Obinna’s journey as a boy soldier.

The first person point of view works beautifully in this story, Obinna’s observations, his thoughts, his hopes and fears are so simply expressed, and all the more powerful for it. Obinna effortlessly evokes emotion in the reader, certainly a great deal of empathy but also a range of emotions from veering between admiration to disgust. Though Obinna does his best to retain his humanity in such a desperate situation, he eventually succumbs to the intense psychological and physical pressure to become a soldier. Not wholly, but still he wields a gun with the rebels as they continue their rampage through tiny Sudanese villages.

The casual disregard for human life, the nonsensical political rhetoric and the sheer horror shared in Beneath The Darkening Sky is hard to comprehend. That the author himself witnessed such atrocities and heard first hand accounts of much worse is even more disturbing.In Beneath the Darkening Sky there is little difference between the actions of the rebels and the government forces though the author resists preaching about the political/social climate of Africa allowing Obinna to remain grounded in his experience. A quick Google search will provide a history of the conflict and confirm that this novel, while a fictionalised account, reveals more truth than imagination.

Beneath the Darkening Sky shines a light on the experience of thousands of children in Africa with raw intensity. A confronting, haunting, powerful read, I highly recommend it.

Available To Purchase

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Danielle
    Sep 01, 2012 @ 08:12:03

    Oh my gosh! I heard Majok speak at a Melbourne Writers Festival event, ‘The Other Africa’ and I was so moved by his story, I went to the MWF bookshop and bought ‘Beneath the Darkening Sky’. Now it’s sitting here, beckoning me to read it … beautiful review of, what sounds like, a truly heartbreaking but important story.

    Reply

  2. Julie @ Knitting and Sundries
    Sep 04, 2012 @ 02:02:37

    I don’t know what to say about this one; it’s so hard for us to imagine CHILDREN witnessing and being pulled into such atrocities. As heartbreaking as it is, it is definitely NOT something to turn our eyes away from … “all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.

    Thanks for the review.

    Reply

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