Exploring the Radiance of Tomorrow
March 09, 2014
Ishmael Beah was a child soldier in Sierra Leone. He wrote about his experience in his memoir, A Long Way Gone. When I read this work, I was filled with sadness that life could contain the evils he experienced. Now Beah has written a novel. At the beginning of the book, Beah talks why he wrote Radiance of Tomorrow:
“I wanted to have people understand how it feels to return to places that have been devastated by war, to try to start living there again, to raise a family there again, to rekindle some of the traditions that have been destroyed. How do you do that?”
Beah’s story starts out with Kadie, an old woman who has lost everything and everyone. After seven years, fighting in Sierra Leone has stopped and she returns to her village. Here she meets another elder, Moiwa. Fire has destroyed most of the structures, and the bones of the dead are scattered around the landscape. “Mama Kadie and Pa Moiwa, as all those younger would respectfully call them, spent weeks removing things that did not belong to the surface of the earth…Bones were littered around the town and the nearby bushes…So they made a decision to take the bones to the cemetery and pile them there until it could be agreed upon by the whole town, when enough people had returned, what to do with the remains.”
Gradually, villagers find their way home. A sense of order begins to return. But life is not the same. Silas and his two children had been maimed. Silas’s right arm had been “cut off above the elbow. Hawa, his nine-year-old daughter, was missing her left arm; Maada, his son, eight, was missing both, one cut above the elbow and the other below.” Bockarie, his children, and his wife also return, and he is reunited with his father. The village begins to become an extended family. Questions need answers.
“Then how do you explain what happened during the war?” someone asked. There was no answer for a while, and then Pa Moiwa spoke. “When we are suffering so much, I believe whatever godliness that is within us departs temporarily. During the war and all that it brought about, we as a people of this land chipped away at the embodiment of God within us and all the traces of goodness that were left after God departed. And now there are many who are empty vessels and therefore can easily be filled with anything. I think stories and the old ways will bring them in contact with life, with living, and with godliness again.”
I wanted the village to be restored. I wished everyone would live happily ever after. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Instead, Beah has inserted stories within the bigger story that help ease (but not remove) pain and suffering. Parts of the book hurt my heart. But my sense of hope was fed by the strength that most of the individuals possess, a sense that survival is possible, and the redemption that can be found in changed circumstances. I gained wisdom from reading the Radiance of Tomorrow.