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Love in the Times of War
Book Title: Song for Night
Author: Chris Abani
Publisher: Akashic Books, USA
Song for Night is a story of civil war in Nigeria. It is set firmly against the backdrop of Christian and Muslim hostilities. Song for Night is an impressive and fast paced description and observation of war narrated by one of its active participant, a boy soldier (15 years) named My Luck.
In the nutshell, it’s a story of human triumph over insurmountable odds. A story of courage. A story of fear. A story of hope. The book has been described as an illumination of the body’s capacity for both ecstasy and pain with honesty rarely encountered. Its narration is faced-paced. Its prose, beautiful beyond measure. Its description and observation as clear as a blue sky.
My Luck was trained as a human mine detector, and joined a platoon whose job was to disable clandestine enemy explosives. This is how they were trained: first their eyes were made keen so they could notice any change in the terrain no matter how subtle: a blade of grass out of place, scuffed turf, a small bump in the ground, the sharp cut of a metal tool into earth – any sign of human disturbance to the ground. They also received feet exercises to make their feet sensitive – because as part of detecting bombs their toes had to work like fingers – always exposed no boots. As part of the training, his vocal cords and that of his comrades were cut off to prevent them from screaming and giving away (their) his platoon’s presence in case of an explosion, and, or if one is blown up.
Despite an absence of his voice, My Luck tells the story of the senseless war with clarity, and maturity of a retired soldier. He seems to agree that the war is necessary, and he is committed to fighting until he is told to stop. Yet, he hardly remembers the hate that led them to the bush in the first place. “We are simply fighting to survive the war…” he admits.
The story begins with My Luck getting separated from his platoon after an explosion. He woke up and found himself alone in the bush. My Luck’s journey to find his missing platoon takes him through abandoned villages, and rotting corpses. He sees first-hand the destruction caused and the futility of war. He remains single minded nonetheless – he must be united with this comrades and continue to fight until there is an order to stop. During his search, he talks openly about his own part in the war including how he enjoyed killing. He once sprayed a group of women with an AK 47, raped, and murdered his own commander.
Song for Night is a devastating book in its lucid description of the effects of war, yet it is a story with a happy ending. Although, the author Chris Abani never tells us about the end of the war, but My Luck does get reunited with his family. He also regained his voice.
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