It’s winter 1944 and the Second World War is entering its most crucial stage. A few months ago Ali Banana was apprenticed to a whip-wielding blacksmith in his rural hometown; now he’s behind enemy lines, trekking through the Burmese jungle, a private in Thunder Brigade. He is fourteen years old.
Led by the scarred, charismatic Sergeant Damisa, the unit has been given orders to go behind enemy lines and wreak havoc. But the jungle is a treacherous place, riddled with Japanese snipers, ambush, infection and disease. As torrential rains turn the landscape into a mud-riven death trap, the losses mount up. Exhausted and far from home, the men of D-Section Thunder Brigade are besieged yet indomitable.
Taut and immediate, at once somber and exhilarating, Burma Boy is the first novel to depict the experiences of black African soldiers in the Second World War. This is a story of real-life battles, of the men who made the legend of the Chindits, the unconventional, quick strike division of the British Army in India. Horrific and always brilliantly executed, this vividly realized account details the madness, the sacrifice and the dark humor of that war’s most vicious battleground. It is also the moving story of a boy trying to live long enough to become a man.
This book was fun! I didn’t expect that. I had put off reading it for so long because I seemed to be getting lost in depressing based-on-real-life stories. The story itself didn’t leave an impression on me to be honest, it felt more like one of those testosterone packed action movies with lots of shooting and people dying. Needless to say, I wasn’t that into it; so this will be a mixed feelings review.
Things I loved
- Dark Comedy: I am well aware I have a twisted sense of humor. And this book provides more than enough. In the prologue, you are immediately introduced to Major Wingate who suddenly proceeds to slaughter himself with a hunting knife, but still has the presence of mind to go lock the door mid-slaughter to keep intruders out. Most people won’t find this funny, I guess, but I thought it was hilarious.
- History: I will admit I have never given any thought to WW2. And while this book is not exactly a history textbook, it gives a bit of insight into the roles of Nigerians in the war.
- Anecdotes: There are plenty of hilarious stories as these soldiers get to know each other and Ali Banana is something of a character himself so there’s no shortage of rib cracking stories
Things that just didn’t work for me
- The Comedy: This book might have been a little too funny or the writer just isn’t gifted in eliciting emotional responses. I don’t know what it was but horrific events are being depicted yet I couldn’t feel it. This would be a good time to point out that I shed tears at everything. Seriously, I cry whenever SpongeBob starts wailing. Okay, maybe not, but I am really sensitive to emotional scenes (I hide this fact well ‘cos “big girls don’t cry”.) and this book made me feel like a cold fish.
- Pidgin/Broken English: You know, I thought I kind of understood pidgin; I don’t speak it ‘cos I know I’ll sound like a complete idiot trying to feel among but I spent a year in Delta State and I can follow the conversations to an extent. The pidgin in this book however, was trying too hard. Everything is described in Ali Banana’s bad English. I get trying to retain his voice but this made reading this book really stressful. I didn’t understand half of the terms and I just gave up in the end. This could have contributed to my inability to relate to the story; now that I think about it.
- The Ending: To say I am disgruntled about the way this book ended would be an understatement. It felt rushed, completely unnecessary and it was gross. I am not a writer, I don’t understand processes and all that jazz but come on, even I can see that we could have done without the last 10 or so pages of this book. Honestly, I can’t tell what the message was or what the writer was trying to accomplish.
If you have read this and you get it, please shed some light in the comments.
This book had a great start, if it had followed through with the tone of the prologue, it could have been fantastic. That’s not to say the story is without its merits. It just lost steam somewhere in the middle.
I was also a bit disappointed once I got into it; Now this could be the side effect of too many action films but when read “ Quick Strike Division” in the blurb, I was expecting stealth missions and so forth.
I would still recommend this to people who laugh at horrible things. For instance, if you enjoy “1000 ways to die”, this is right up your alley.
Title: Burma Boy; Also published as The King’s Rifle
Author: Biyi Bandele
Published by: Kachifo Limited – Farafina
Year of Publication: 2007
Genre: War Fiction