The Great Agony and Pure Laughter of the Gods
This book tells the story of Risto, an unwilling child soldier from the DRC. He is kidnapped and forced into a life of brutality and unbelievable cruelty, is lucky enough to be left for dead and so is rescued and is free, and then leaves the DRC to travel overland to Mozambique. Risto’s stoy is not that of an actual child soldier (this book is fiction), but he is any one of thousands of child soldiers across Africa.
The details and events in this book were harrowing at times; I found myself reading with my shoulders pulled away from the book and my eyes scrunched up as you would view a scary movie. It is not that the descriptions are vivid or graphic, but the casualness with which truly awful events are described is in many ways even worse.
I am still disturbed at the idea of cutting someone’s arm off. Who does that? And how? Shudder.
I am also haunted by the fact that the child soldiers are called Kidogo – the Swahili word for small. That even those in charge of these youngsters acknowledge right from the onset that they are small, little, young, kids for goodness sake, makes what they do and what they have become even sadder.
Risto suffers from terrible PTSD once he has escaped the militia. Across Africa, kids like Risto are part of a lost generation. They have seen and done things no one should see or do, least of all youngsters. Boys murder and maim, and girls are raped, beaten and owned. And all with very little possibilities of a peaceful resolution. It is so very sad.
The last few chapters of the book feel more like a fairy tale than a reasonable story of the 21st century. From a purely literary point of view, they probably let the book down. But in some ways the ending proves the point of the sadness of the whole story, the monumental loss experienced by these kids and the countries of and continent of Africa as a whole.
The fairy tale ending of the 17 year old Risto, and I assume to some degree the author, is so much smaller than the fairy tale endings comfortable safe teenagers have in the luxury of their educated, warm, well fed lives. When a young teenager is ripped from his family and forced, at the threat of his own death, to kill other youngsters, childhood friends and even family members, just being safe and warm in a sleeping place with a roof must seem the ultimate happy ending. The very little that was offered as the ultimate, and largely unbelievable, happy ending of the book was heart wrenching in its very littleness. People deserve the right to believe in the possibility of more.
This skinny book is a quick but not easy read. It is worth reading and will linger long after you put it down.