Ishmael Beah came to prominence as a former child soldier who survived the civil war in Sierra Leone and wrote of his harrowing experiences in the 2007 bestselling memoir A Long Way Gone. He traveled the world talking about his wartime life and discovered that most people in his audience didn’t think about the impact of the aftermath of war on a community. “There’s so much focus and interest about what happens during war, but very little about what happens when people return to homes and communities that have been destroyed. There’s a renewal that happens, but it’s a very difficult one. You have to live next door to neighbors that you’ve seen the best and the worst of because of the circumstances—how do you do that? That’s what the desire to write a novel came out of—I wanted to understand that because it’s not an easy thing.”
In his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Jan. 2014), Beah examines postwar life in Sierra Leone through the eyes of two friends who return to their village and try to repair what the civil war has destroyed. “The book starts with an older woman who goes back home after the war. I tried to envision what it would have been like for my grandmother to return home after she’d not been there for several years and what she would feel and think, so that was the beginning.”
Beah shares his writing process. “I think about the story, about the names of the characters, their age, their gender, the location, and then I just start writing. The characters begin to come alive and create moments of their own, and as the writing begins to shape up I go back and find that there is a natural structure that finds itself, as opposed to me trying to force something. This also comes from my background in oral tradition, where you start stories and allow the story to have a life of its own, and then the story becomes you as you’re telling it.”
The author hopes readers will learn something about the strength of the human spirit by reading his book. “We all find joy and radiance and a reason to move on even in the most dire of circumstances. Even in chaos and madness, there’s still a beauty that comes from just the vibrancy of another human spirit.” Beah is one of the speaker’s at this morning’s Author Breakfast, where a 100-page sample of his novel will be available.