Apr. 4, 2014 by Darius
Sierra Leone’s civil war, which lasted from 1992 to 2001, was extraordinarily brutal. An estimated 50,000 people died and countless others were left disfigured – amputations became a favorite method of randomly punishing civilians. Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah takes place shortly after the end of the civil war and, I thought, would be about the aftermath of the war. It was, but not in the way I expected.
Radiance of Tomorrow is mostly the story of the village of Imperi. Imperi was ravaged and depopulated by a marauding warlord during the civil war, and Radiance of Tomorrow begins with the stories of the first of Imperi’s former residents to return: the community’s elders, whose first task is to literally remove the bones strewn around the village. As more people drift back to Imperi, they must deal with those who will never return and come to terms with some of the same people guilty of perpetrating atrocities.
But it quickly becomes clear that this is not as much a book about post-war reconciliation as it is about life on the wrong side of globalization. An international mining firm arrives in Imperi and, without giving much away, gradually destroys the life of Imperi in a way even the war could not. Ironically, or perhaps not, the characters who best understand what justice looks like in this brave new world and how to achieve it are not the elders but the former child soldiers.
A passage near the end of this part of the book says it well: “Most days [the] people wished that the [contents] of their land were like all others, undesirable, and that their earth didn’t carry within it beautiful things that brought them misery.”
Unfortunately, I found the last quarter or so of Radiance of Tomorrow an odd and unsatisfying departure from the rest of the narrative. That said, Ishmael Beah has an important story to tell and most of Radiance of Tomorrow is well worth a read.