At the centre of Radiance of Tomorrow are Benjamin and Bockarie, two friends who return to their hometown after the civil war in Sierra Leone. The village is in ruins, the ground covered in bones. As more villagers begin to come back, Benjamin and Bockarie try to forge a new community by taking up their former posts as teachers, but they’re beset by obstacles.
As Benjamin and Bockarie search for a way to restore order, they’re forced to reckon with the uncertainty of their past and future alike. With the gentle lyricism of a dream and the moral clarity of a fable, Radiance of Tomorrow is a powerful novel about preserving what means the most to us, even in uncertain times.
I read Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone, several years ago, and had been greatly touched by his story and the horrors of the life of child soldiers, which I knew very little about at the time. So, when I found out he had written a novel about people returning home after the war, I knew I had to read it. And it didn’t disappoint. This book took me on such an emotional roller coaster, and is so beautifully written that I know I won’t be able to do it justice, no matter what I say. But I’ll try anyway.
Starting with the plot, I was very intrigued with the whole idea before I even started reading. Most novels wishing to explore the theme of war tend, for the most part, to follow their characters during the war itself, showing the reader the atrocities, deprivations and fear that a period of such diffused violence inevitably brings to the people experiencing it. This book, instead, begins soon after the war has finished, and shows us what happens after the violence and chaos have stopped. This time, we get to follow our characters as they make their way back to their village, as they start to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild their lives (both individually and as a community). This book has it all: hope, tragedy, redemption, solidarity, an unscrupulous mining company… It somehow manages to be heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.
I adored the characters! They were so perfectly designed that I could almost feel them as actual, real people, with their fears, worries and joys. I laughed with them and cried with them in all the rights places, and just couldn’t get enough of them generally. What I liked most of all was that even though the novel focused on following two families in particular, all the characters, including secondary ones, were given their own space, voice and distinct role in the story. From the village elders sharing their wisdom to the former child soldiers trying to find their place in a world that fears them, everyone has something to contribute, some unforgettable lesson to share. But what I loved most was the writing. Oh, this writing! It was so beautiful, it sometimes felt like I was reading poetry, not a novel. I’m in awe of Beah’s writing style, and I just can’t get over it!
This is definitely one of those books that will stay with me for a very long time, and quite possibly will be re-read multiple times.