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Allah Is Not Obliged (2000)

by Ahmadou Kourouma

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3741660,477 (3.63)28
When Birahima's mother dies, he leaves his native village to search for his aunt Mahan. Crossing the border into Liberia, he is seized by a rebel force and press-ganged into military service. Fighting in a chaotic civil war, he sees death, torture, amputation and madness, but somehow manages to retain his own sanity.… (more)
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» See also 28 mentions

English (12)  French (4)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Told from the mouth of a child soldier was an interesting approach but it didn't work for me. The techniques used to suggest a hardened youthful voice were irritating and despite them the narrative did not feel as though it was coming from a child. It did provide an overview of the chaos in West Africa. ( )
1 vote snash | Apr 24, 2014 |
Oliver Twist crossed with Holden Caulfield? Kids crossed with Lord of the Flies? Bouncing back and forth between two civil wars, hopped up on hash and witchcraft? Birahima, our damaged li'l protagonist, weaves in and out of the West African hellscape, dancing between the tragedies like they turn to water as soon as they hit him. You root for him, the homicidal monster. You have to, because who else is availabe? Anyone who's not a killer is gonna get their arms and legs cut off by Foday Sankoh's RUF, or raped and decapitated by the Kamajors, an "Ivoirian Freemasonry of hunters," or tortured and executed by one of several cruel-beyond-belief "battle nun"–type figures who combine a kind of motherhood with a bloodlust that's cartoonish, mangaesque. Probably the kids will kill you fastest and feel worst about it.

This book got a lot of things across from me. What it means for animism to be an immanent part of daily life, as opposed to a shameful indulgence like here in Uganda (it means a lot more killing). How important it is for newspaper atrocities to be attached to stories that tell it like people would tell it--cruicially, with all the hardbitten irony and absurdist delight this child soldier can muster--in order for the bewildering history to stick to your brain, turn into something with bite and dimension. How they guy in charge will never leave well enough alone, because "he doesn't give a fuck, he controls the useful part of Sierra Leone!" and by the time he realizes he can't get away with controlling it any more, it's way, way too late for hum to even control his own life or safety. Not giving a fuck--being too lazy, as well as too afraid, to do anything other than what the crowd is doing, even if that's killing everybody, because at least it's a living and a laugh and better to be doing the hand-chopping than having it done to you--is so fucking human-sounding and leaves me quite sure that if you took us in a vaunted first-world country like Canada and subtracted wealth and subsistence and added a million guns and ethnic hatred, you'd have the exact same thing. It would have been easy for Kourouma to tug the heartstrings, but he doesn't do it directly--only when you stop to reflect are you overwhelmed--because any kid would choose, like Birahima, not to give a fuck, since the ones who don't remove themselves from consideration by dying. Dying, and the threat of death, change everything, and we'd all be something fucked-up like a thugged-out cannibal or a baby with no hands or a bloodthirsty nun, or we'd just be wraiths of a past when there were other choices. ( )
1 vote MeditationesMartini | Jun 12, 2012 |
This is like Pere Ubu traipsing through the jungles of West Africa seeking riches: the ribald and absurdist journey of a ten year old hired gun and his bullshit-talking, witch doctor guardian, both surviving their way through Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Liberia during their most violent years. Unlikely captures and escapes propel the narrator and his cohort from one camp of fighters to another and from one key moment of the wars to the next. Their movements give Kourouma the opportunity to tell the history of the wars that ravaged West Africa at the end of the twentieth century, though this strains the believability of his ten year old narrator--whose own needs and concerns disappear for many pages at a time, giving way to Kourouma's caustic history:

"The Black Nigger Natives worked as hard as wild beasts. The creoles got all the jobs as civil servants in the government and managers of the commercial businesses. And the colonial English colonists and the thieving double-crossing Lebanese pocketed all the money.";

"Foday Sankoh isn't duped by the democracy game. No sir. He doesn't want anything to do with any of it. He doesn't want a National Conference, he doesn't want free and fair elections. He doesn't want anything. He controls the part of the country with diamonds; he controls the useful part of Sierra Leone. He doesn't give a fuck."

"Allah is Not Obliged" moves quickly and unfolds like an oral history with numerous refrains and repetitions which are, in this case, largely profane. Kourouma seeks to explain the precociousness of his narrator as the result of a gift of numerous dictionaries from a deceased translator and these produce a much overused trope:

"Nobody can be obliged to do anything because no one's got the time to go round putting rebel fighters on trial for perjury in the fucked-up four-star chaos of tribal wars in Liberia ('perjury', according to my Larousse, means 'the deliberate, willful giving of false testimony under oath')."

These parenthetical definitions (which accompany the initial arrival of nearly 50% of larger words) are rather annoying and while Kourouma set himself up to underscore the inherent political bias of different dictionaries (since Birahima possesses at least four), he doesn't actually succeed on this mission. The choice of dictionary always seems random and unrevealing; so the one potentially interesting aspect of reminding his readers what words mean is lost.

I've avoided reading some of the denser histories of the conflict that serves as the context of this book, so I'm actually grateful to Kourouma's history and I enjoyed the pure ridiculousness of the narrator and his friends. The book's dark humor gives it a certain charm as do the funeral orations delivered by Birahima for his tiny dead friends.

It's hard for me not to like a book that treats the subject of child soldiers with *none* of the sentimentality and manipulation that the subject has received from other quarters. A small passage that seems to contain a bit of Kourouma's contempt for the plaintive (and I would argue, totally insincere) hand-wringing about young killers:

"The dead child-soldier was called Kid, Captain Kid. Now and again in his beautiful song, Colonel Papa le Bon chanted 'Captain Kid' and the whole cortege howled after him 'Kid, Kid'. You should have heard it. They sounded like a bunch of retards." ( )
3 vote fieldnotes | Jul 9, 2011 |
Allah is not obliged is narrated by Birahima, a "street child and small-soldier with no fear and no shame", looking for his auntie who is supposed to look after him after he has lost his mother. The aunt has moved to Liberia and the boy must follow, despite the war.

This is not one of those "true stories" or "survivor's tales". No, Birahima is an optimist and opportunist, he changes sides when he needs to (to follow the auntie), fighting for and against all parties in the absurd war; he thinks it is cool that boys (and girls) like he can have anything they need and want ... thanks to the kalashnikovs they are given. He stubbornly refuses to become a victim.

Yet the horror of the war is present too. People die, children die (despite all fetishes they are given in addition to the rifles), and Birahima makes requiems to those he used to like. It is there but is always shown through the satirical and pseudo-naïve view of our hero.

There are a few informative sections about the background and the parties of the war, possibly too many for someone's tastes; so much so that once in a while you may forget you're reading a novel. Otherwise the writing is good (the language being foul, however, if that matters). ( )
1 vote eairo | Mar 24, 2010 |
A curious book. On the one hand, it provides a fascinating historical overvierw of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone; on the other it doesn't really do what it sets out to do. It sets out to tell the story of a 10 year old child soldier. The soldier himself narrates, only his language and historical knowledge are way beyond the grasp of one so young (even allowing for his having aged by three years during the course of the story). Additionally we do not really get his story, at least not the kind of interior narrative associated with the novel. Instead his journey around Liberia and Sierra Leone conveniently maps the different sides of the various conflicts. Not unenjoyable, then, but if you already know anything about these civil wars then a waste of your time. ( )
  blackhornet | Jan 11, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ahmadou Kouroumaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Volterrani, EgiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Aux enfants de Djibouti : c'est à votre demande que ce livre a été écrit.
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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.
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When Birahima's mother dies, he leaves his native village to search for his aunt Mahan. Crossing the border into Liberia, he is seized by a rebel force and press-ganged into military service. Fighting in a chaotic civil war, he sees death, torture, amputation and madness, but somehow manages to retain his own sanity.

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