Margot's Reviews > Allah is Not Obliged

Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
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's review
Mar 02, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, international
Read in March, 2009

There's nothing more endearing than a child soldier armed with an AK-47 and several dictionaries. Ahmadou Kourouma has created just such a character in the 10-year-old Birahima, a cheating, thieving, drug-addicted, machine-gun wielding narrator. He has decided to tell us his story, but on his own terms, as he says "Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on Earth" and neither is Birahima. He tells us what he feels like, when he feels like writing, but be wary of him when he gets tired of narrating! He will curse like only a child-soldier can.
Birahima takes us through his experience making his way through war-torn Liberia and Sierra Leone by shifting alliances, lying, stealing, and killing. With the assistance of a crook grigriman Yacouba, he makes his way to his aunt after his parents have died. At the end of the grueling journey, across two countries and after many battles and near-death experiences, they find Birahima's aunt, dead in a warlord-run refugee camp.
Throughout the tale, we are heralded with funeral orations of the fellow child-soldiers that Birahima was friends with, sprinkled liberally with curses and sidenote translations from Larousse, Petit Robert, Glossary of French Lexical Particularities in Black Africa, and Harrap's.
We get a taste of the horrors of tribal warfare and dictatorships in Sierra Leone, Liberia and neighboring countries in the 90's. Bands of children armed with Kalashnikov rifles, high on hashish, are lead by warlords. Women and girls are beaten and raped. Girls' clitoris are excised. Soldiers march into battle sure that their grigris totems will protect them from the bullets that kill them. And through it all, Birahima narrates matter-of-factly as a child who has seen more than his share of life. Only three or four pages toward the end escape his narrative stream, and read as history of the military and political maneuvers in the region.

Here's a taste:
"Everywhere in the world a woman isn't supposed to leave her husband's bed even if that husband curses her and punches her and threatens her. The woman is always wrong. That's what they call women's rights."(26)
"Gio is the language of the Black Nigger African Natives in these parts, it's a patois. Malinkes call them bushmen, savages, cannibals on account of they don't speak Malinke like us and they're not Muslim like us. In our bug bubus the Malinkes look like they're kind and friendly but really we're racist bastards."(54)
"When you've got no one left on earth, no father, no mother, no brother, no sister, and you're really young, just a little kid, living in some fucked-up barbaric country where everyone is cutting everyon'e throat, what do you do? You become a child-soldier of course, a small-soldier, a child-soldier so you can have lots to eat and cut some throats yourself; that's all your only option."(90)
"I don't have to talk, I'm not obliged to tell my dog's-life-story, wading through dictionary after dictionary. I'm fed up talking , so I'm going to stop for today. You can all fuck off!"(91)
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