Allah is Not Obliged

READ THE WORLD – Côte d’Ivoire: Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma

Birahima is ten years old when he becomes a child-soldier. After his mother’s death he travels to Liberia to find his aunt but on the way there he gets caught up in rebel fighting and must become a child-solider in order to survive.

I found the way Allah is Not Obliged was written was unlike anything I’d really read before. It’s from Birahima’s point of view and it really feels like a child is telling the story. There’s lots of long sentences, as if he’s gotten excited, there’s a lot of repetition of sentences in the space of a couple of paragraphs, and he often stops to explain something mid-sentence or goes off on a tangent. There’s also the brutal honesty that comes from a child. He talks about how he and other child-soldiers are high, they don’t have a lot of food, the way they are in danger; it’s all just a fact of life for him and he tells his story with more wisdom and humour than any ten-year-old should have.

Allah is Not Obliged is set in the 1990s and it blurs the line between fact and fiction. I didn’t google every single name of the war lords and rebels Birahima mentions, but I definitely noticed that the first half of the book there seemed to be more fictional war lords, whereas in the later half of the book, it got quite detailed about what happened in various coups, and the war lords and politicians involved. In the second half of the book, those people Birahima named, were real people. This gave me an insight into West African history that I knew next to nothing about.

Birahima’s story takes place in a number of countries on the West African coast. He gets caught up in different conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone as he travels back and forth, trying to find his aunt while also trying to stick with the men who appear more powerful and therefore are more likely to keep him safe.

Allah is Not Obliged doesn’t shy away from the brutalities of war and because how Birahima’s voice is so knowledgeable and factual about the whole thing, it’s easy to forget he is a child. One thing’s for sure, this book definitely shows how the children who become child-soldiers are forced to grow up very quickly, but at the same time, don’t fully understand everything that is happening around them.

While Allah is Not Obliged is a reasonably short book at just over 200 pages, I found it to be a slow and often dull read, especially towards the end of the book when it got quite dense with the more fact-heavy stuff. it was never a book that I felt compelled to pick up again as the Birahima’s meandering story never really pulled me in. It has an interesting writing style, with Birahima’s voice shining through almost constantly, and it has a weird blend of the brutalities of war and the dark humour these young people have to embrace in order to stay somewhat sane.

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Top of Your TBR

Top 5 Wednesday is a great feature hosted by ThoughtsonTomes. To find out more about Top 5 Wednesday and the upcoming topics, check out its Goodreads page. It’s a new year and a new chance to tackle that TBR and this week’s Top 5 Wednesday is all about what books are at the top of our TBR pile and are the ones we want to read ASAP. I have an extensive physical TBR with almost 40 unread books with me in my flat, and then around 60 more unread books taking up residence in my mum’s flat. Oops! Here’s five books I do really want to read soon though!

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadwi
I got this for my birthday last year and I somehow have yet to pick it up. While I’ve not read the original Frankenstein, I know the story and am interested in seeing how this retelling works in US-occupied Baghdad.

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
This is a book I hadn’t heard of before but got it one of those Buy One Get One Half Price deals in Waterstones. I’ve not read anything by Jenny Han (Though I’ve watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and really enjoyed it) but I read The List by Siobhan Vivian a couple of years a go and liked it a lot, so I’m interested to see what I make of this collaboration.

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
This was a Christmas present via the #TBTBSanta exchange and is probably one of the most recent additions on my TBR. I read and loved Eliza and Her Monsters, so I hope I like Made You Up just as much.

Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma
I’ve owned Allah is Not Obliged for almost a year now after I bought it on last year’s London Bookshop Crawl, so I really should get to it soon. It’s a pretty short book, just over 200 pages, but it sounds like a hard-hitting one as it’s about a child soldier.

Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid
Another birthday present from last year, I think the reason I’ve been putting off Burning Cities is because of its size. It’s just over 300 pages but the edition I have makes it look much longer. It is a multigenerational story which I do enjoy but I do have to be in the right mindset for it.

What books are at the top of your TBR pile?