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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Thursday, December 7, 2006 10:18 am
Uzodinma Iweala Wins the Llewellyn Rhys
Posted by: Keir Graff

For those of you going through award-news withdrawal, you’ll be pleased to learn that Uzodinma Iweala has won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for his first novel, Beasts of No Nation. From The Guardian:

Beasts of No Nation is a first novel by Uzodinma Iweala who, at 23 years old, is one of the youngest winners of the prize for young writers, which has an upper age limit of 35 years.

Previous award winners include V. S. Naipaul, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, David Mitchell, and Zadie Smith, so Iweala is in good company. And his tale, about a child soldier in an unnamed West African country, couldn’t be more timely. The Guardian article notes that as many as 300,000 children may currently be fighting as soldiers.

In her starred Booklist review, Gillian Engberg writes:

Readers will come away feeling shattered by this haunting, original story.

Oh, heck, here’s the whole review:

“I am not bad boy. I am not bad boy. I am soldier and soldier is not bad if he is killing.” Set in an unnamed West African country, Iweala’s first novel shows civil war from a child’s viewpoint. After his mother and sister escape and his father is killed, the traumatized young narrator is discovered by guerrilla fighters. Frightened and alone, he joins the men, becoming a soldier in an impoverished army of terror headed by a charismatic and treacherous leader who tells his young followers that killing “is like falling in love. You cannot be thinking about it.” Writing in the boy’s West African English, Iweala distills his story to the most urgent and visceral atrocities, and the scenes of bloodshed and rape are made more excruciating by the lyrical, rhythmic language. In the narrator’s memories of village life, biblical stories, and creation myths, Iweala explores the mutable separation between human and beast and a child’s struggle to rediscover his own humanity after war: “I am some sort of beast or devil,” the boy says, “But I am also having mother once, and she is loving me.” Readers will come away feeling shattered by this haunting, original story. – Gillian Engberg

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One Response to “Uzodinma Iweala Wins the Llewellyn Rhys”
  1. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » We Just Know You’re Going to Write a Prizeworthy Book! Says:

    [...] Lemn Sissay, a judge for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Fiction, informs us that, in the UK at least, some books get longlisted not because of quality but contractual obligation. From the Guardian Blog: I’ve just finished judging the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Fiction, which had me reading 45 books in three months. When I got talking to novelist Mandy Sayer at a literary festival, she surprised me with an account of how some books get on longlists. Apparently agents can collude with publishers to guarantee, through publishing deals, that certain authors are put forward for specific prizes. [...]


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