Little Family

Riverhead. Apr. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9780735211773. $27. F
Beah, the Sierra Leonean boy soldier whose 2007 memoir, A Long Way Gone, seared its way into readers’ consciousness, is safely ensconced in the United States. But his heart will always be with the young victims of Africa’s civil wars. In his second novel (after Radiance of Tomorrow), five children, wise beyond their years, band together for safety and survival in an abandoned airplane they call home. Led by the bookish Elimane and mothered by scarcely teenaged Khoudiemata, the motley group perfects the art of grifting, carefully planning its forays into the village to snatch food or items for barter. Beah portrays his characters with exquisite tenderness, imbuing them with a grace that belies their wretched situation, while he hints at their pasts through quickly tamped-down memories or nightmares gently dispelled by Khoudie’s soothing hands. But Elimane’s chance encounter with a mysterious new employer and Khoudie’s involvement with a cadre of politically connected young people soon threaten the family’s fragilely constructed invisibility.
VERDICT In a work less harrowing but no less effective than Radiance of Tomorrow, Beah continues to speak eloquently to the impact of colonialism on generations of African children for whom freedom is merely an illusion. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/19.]

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