This book broke my heart.
I literally had to stop reading at certain parts for days in order not to wallow in despair. Written by a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, in an attempt to reproduce the cadences and rhythm of his native tongue Mende, he here tells the story of the village Imperi which was destroyed in a surprise rebel attack and was sequentially abandoned. Slowly, after years of neglect the villagers return, first the elders, who take it upon themselves to clear the town of the horrors of war, bodies left strewn on trees, bones littering the ground, and then slowly more and more refugees. Everyone is touched by war, no one escaped unscathed, one man returns with his children, all of whom had an arm chopped off.
But slowly they begin to rebuild, a school is opened and commerce returns, a community starts to form. This small prosperity sadly leads to an even more insidious invasion, one of foreign corporations intent on strip mining the land. Before long the foreign workers start disrupting the lives of the villagers and usurp it’s economy forcing the locals into indentured slavery and prostitution. The river, once a source of life and joy is poisoned and land torn open and scarred to reach precious minerals, even the village’s grave yard violated to further the mining operation.
The village elders try to appeal to old customs meant to protect the land and people but face corruption at every turn until the ravages of poverty and consequences of greed force a second exodus upon the people of Imperi, forcing many of them to move to the somewhat ironically named Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The moral here is brutal, war can be endured, but capitalism run amok is far more dangerous.
This is a wonderfully written book and it’s almost lyrical prose, as stated an attempt to imitate Mende, creates unique imageries and linguistic structures. It is also an important book in that these atrocities are real, they should not be ignored, even if reading about them might make you wish you hadn’t. Read this book and then maybe go watch a video with kittens on youtube.