Abdourahman A. Waberi, trans. from the French by David Ball and Nicole Ball. Indiana Univ., $17 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-253-00693-6

Steeped in both historical lore and the socio-political realities of the small ex-French colony of Djibouti before and during its 1990s civil war, Waberi’s new collection tells the alternatively inspiring and somewhat laborious tale of Bashir “Binladen,” in Paris due to mistaken identity, who provides a crassly sensationalistic window into the soldier’s life, replete with graphic rape-and-pillage exploits described in an energetic, illiterate voice: “Oh, the army was big mess. Holy Moly! We killed the Wadags, screwed their daughters, poisoned wells....” Standing in stark contrast to Bashir is Abdo-Julien, a child prone to lofty, over-lyrical observations: nomads are “Chroniclers of the ephemeral,” who “shell their sayings like oysters.” Two other characters, both engrossing, arrive late in the binary alternations between Bashir’s warrior-thug sensationalism and Abdo-Julien’s sentimentality: Alice, the Breton student who fled France with Abdo-Julien’s father, is a sexualized and pragmatic mom who knows leaving Brittany will have tragic consequences; and Awaleh, Abdo-Julien’s nomadic warrior grandfather, is the very incarnation of the enchanted and fierce region known as the Horn of Africa—both adventurer and modest seer, he gives Waberi’s narrative depth and a touch of magical realism. (Oct.)