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Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Pages
Feb 25th, 2014

BayouPages Mar 14

Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel
by Ishmael Beah | Review by Casey Matthews

In 2007, Ishmael Beah published his memoir A Long Boy Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier about his horrifying experience fighting for the Sierra Leone Armed Forces in his country’s civil war. After the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) killed his parents, brothers and grandparents, Beah fled into the jungle to avoid death. He was subsequently forced into the army at age 12 and taught to kill any other person (or child) believed to be fighting for the RUF. At the age of 16, Beah was rescued by UNICEF and taken to a rehabilitation camp for boy soldiers; there he had to face the reality of what he had done over the last four years. He was given the opportunity to speak at the United Nations about his experience and found solace in sharing his tragic journey. Beah continues to speak around the United States, and he continues to raise awareness about the plight of Sierra Leone.

Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel is Beah’s fictional story about the aftermath of civil war. The novel opens in a small village in upcountry Sierra Leone, Imperi, a town devastated by the war. Gradually, members of the village return to their homes and begin to rebuild their lives. All around them are reminders of their pasts, and as the villagers attempt to heal themselves, they also begin to reach out and heal each other. They share the legends of their ancestors; just as they had pain in their past, they also discover a source of strength there as well.

As the characters begin to adapt to their new lives, new evils begin to make their way into the village. Corruption, greed and exploitation, enabled and encouraged by the weakened government, transform and ultimately destroy this village. Mining companies stop at nothing to extract minerals and diamonds to meet the demands of the world’s consumers. Since Sierra Leone’s first civil war precipitated over diamonds, Beah’s criticism of the continued exploitation of his country is apparent.

The novel’s political argument is subtly woven through the lives of two teachers, Bockarie and Benjamin, who have returned to Imperi to support and raise their families. Their episodes demonstrate the extent of corruption that faces a still-recovering country. For the reader, Bockarie and Benjamin represent the horrors and struggles that are so foreign to a first-world country. By the end of the novel, the dishonesty and fraud of the system are overwhelming; however, the resilience and hope of the people are inspiring.

Beah’s condemnation of the mining industry’s exploitation of his country is clear, and he wants the rest of the world to understand the extent to which our desires for goods come at a very high price for others. However, he also wants to show that while the human spirit and struggle for life can be tested, they are never broken. As Mama Kadie, the matriarch of the village, tells the others: “For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it, the simplest glimpse of that possibility of goodness. That will be our strength. That has always been our strength.”

Casey Posey Matthews graduated with her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education from University of Louisiana in Monroe and her Master’s of Arts degree in English from University of New Orleans and is now an English teacher at Beachwood High School in Cleveland, OH.