cover image Allah Is Not Obliged

Allah Is Not Obliged

Ahmadou Kourouma, , trans. from the French by Frank Wynne. . Anchor, $12.95 (215pp) ISBN 978-0-307-27957-6

The late Ivory Coast author and political activist Kourouma (Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote ) writes with a brutal and obscene frankness reminiscent of Celine in this powerfully tragic novel about a West African child soldier who learns early that "Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth." Unsure if he's 10 or 12 years old, "rude as a goat's beard" Birahima, a third-grade dropout, recalls how his once-beautiful mother became an amputee who "moved on her arse like a caterpillar" and that he suspected her of being a soul-devouring sorceress. After her death, the boy is entrusted to a roguish shaman and sent to live with an aunt in Liberia. En route, they fall into the clutches of a warlord, and Birahima joins their forces as a boy soldier, witnessing and participating in all manner of savagery. Although Birahima's regurgitation of word definitions and chunks of West African history is awkward, this French import is a worthy if difficult read. And the popularity of the current Starbucks pick, the child soldier memoir A Long Way Gone , can't hurt sales potential. (May)