cover image The King's Rifle

The King's Rifle

Biyi Bandele, . . Amistad, $13.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-06-158266-0

One of the young African men in this WWII novel is so proud of his new military boots that he hangs them by the laces around his neck and starts a fashion trend in his village, providing one of many powerful and poignant images that fill Bandele's distinctive first novel. The story chronicles the Chindits, a band of African soldiers enlisted by the British military and sent to Burma to fight the Japanese. Among them is Farabiti Banana, a 14-year-old Nigerian who becomes a soldier to follow the lead of his friends and hopes the military will make him a man. Once out of training, life becomes increasingly dangerous for Banana and his eight fellow Chindits, and by the novel's climax, he's become a man, but at a great cost. Bandele favors a straight-ahead style fueled by imagery and wordplay, and his perspective on heavily traveled literary territory is refreshing and even endearing. (Apr.)