Author: Chris Abani
Published: May 9, 2016 – U.K. (Originally 2007 – U.S.)
Rating: 4 Stars
Literary Fiction (Novella) | 160 pages |Published by Saqi Books
As a reader, I believe one of my duties is to experience the narratives of people from all over the world and to expose myself to the lived experiences of as many cultures as possible. Sometimes, this means I get to witness people’s love, joy, and adventures. Those stories are wonderful and we love to read and be enriched by them. But our world is also full of nightmares and horrors that far too many people live and encounter on a daily basis. We may choose to go about our daily lives not thinking about such unpleasant matters, but turning a blind eye to people’s suffering means we are devaluing that suffering for the sake of preserving our own comfort.
We are bombarded with gruesome headlines and heartbreaking stories every day, so it has become increasingly easier to ignore other people’s plight. We all do this and I am no exception. That is why fiction that is honest and reflective of our world’s complex, flawed, and painful history is so important for society in general.
Chris Abani’s Song For Night is a shining example of the kind of fiction the world needs. The narrative is fairly slim, as it is a novella, but it is powerful nonetheless. It follows 15 year-old My Luck, who is caught in the midst of an unnamed civil war in West Africa that is reminiscent of the Biafran War of 1967-1970. But the focus is not politics; rather the story explores My Luck’s spiritual and physical journey for “home,” peace, and the boy he once was before war warped his humanity.
The entire story is narrated in My Luck’s voice, though he opens the novella with the line “What you hear is not my voice.” What he means is that he is mute and cannot speak. He wasn’t born mute, but had to undergo the standard procedure for all mine defusers in his platoon — to have his vocal chords severed so that he would be unable to scream if he set off a mine. This way he wouldn’t warn the enemy or distract his fellow soldiers.
Song For Night is one of the bleakest stories I have ever read. There is very little room for hope and happiness, though My Luck tries to find such moments wherever he can. For example, another mine desufer, Ijeoma, offers him love and comfort when everything around them is a living hell. If only for a moment. Sometimes all he can do is find beauty in a starry night.
I have killed many people during the last three years. Half of those were innocent, half of those were unarmed, — and some of those killings have even been a pleasure. But even with all this, even with the knowledge that there are some sins too big for even God to forgive, every night my sky is still full of stars; a wonderful song for night.
Do not expect an easily delineated morality. It is up to the reader to decide if My Luck is deserving of our sympathy. But after hearing this brave and intelligent boy tell his story, it is difficult not to yearn and mourn with him. I’m not comfortable passing judgment on people caught in such horrendous circumstances, but what I can do is lend my ear, empathize, and magnify their voices and stories in any way I can so that their lives and experiences are not forgotten.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher, Saqi Books, in exchange for an honest review.
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