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Children Who Only Know How to Kill
Book explores the effects of war on child soldiers
Ambrose Musiyiwa (amusiyiwa)     Print Article 
Published 2006-05-24 09:00 (KST)   
Delia Jarrett-Macauley
©2006 Delia Jarrett-Macauley
Delia Jarrett-Macauley's debut novel, "Moses, Citizen and Me" (Granta Books, 2005) is a haunting tale about child soldiers in Sierra Leone's civil war which forced guns on an estimated 15,000 children between 1991 and 2001.

The protagonist of the novel is Citizen, an eight-year-old boy who was forced into the conflict. After the war, Citizen is released back to his village to find himself mistrusted and ostracised. Under instruction from "the big soldier man," Citizen killed his own grandmother.

The arrival of his cousin, Julia, from England results in an exploration of the tormented generation of child soldiers, other children who were caught up in the war and a family's dilemma.

Julia presents one of the central questions of the novel when she asks, "was there any bridge back to normal childhood?" while Anita, a neighbour, reveals the community"s attitude towards child soldiers when she says most people "will not let a child like Citizen near their houses after what he's done...Who wants a child who only knows how to kill? What kind of nightmare is that?"

Moses, Citizen and Me
©2006 Granta Books
"Moses, Citizen and Me" combines a strong narrative with politics, vibrant dialogue and imaginative dream sequences. It makes the difficult story of child soldiers accessible and readable without the heavy factual references of most novels with a political foundation.

In the novel, Jarrett-Macauley blends magical realism, the western cannon and poetic humor, as well as African oral tradition as she looks at the lives of those traumatized by the war. These include "Corporal Kalashnikov" who is being weaned off the tea laced with marijuana and gunpowder that dulled his fear and Sally, a teenage mother nursing the infant born after she was raped when she lost sight of her parents for a moment and a "hand grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into the war."

Jarrett-Macauley reminds us that the ex-soldiers, in spite of what they have done and what they have been through, are still only children trying to live, learn and rediscover themselves in the world. This compassion comes through even in the dream sequence in which the child soldiers of the terrorizing "number-one-burn-house" unit tell their own stories.

In an interview with Joy Francis lasy year, Jarrett-Macauley, a former social services consultant and trainer, said one of the most shocking things she had heard about child soldiers was when someone told her that unaccompanied minors and child soldiers do not experience much trauma.

"Child soldiers are not aware of what they are doing, partly because they are children and partly because they are pumped up on drugs and not properly fed. There is still a desperate need for counseling, for work with girls and younger women who have been raped and have HIV/AIDS," she said.

In 2005, "Moses, Citizen and Me" was awarded the George Orwell Prize for political writing. The annual prize is awarded to writers judged to have best achieved George Orwell's aim "to make political writing into an art" and seeks to recognize good accessible, writing about politics, political thinking or public policy.

In their comments, the judges said, "Anyone who has spent time in Africa can immediately recognize the power and truth of her descriptions. It is a work of great intimacy and moral complexity, the kind of writing that sheds light on a world we barely understand."

Andrew O'Hagan, a member of the judging panel, added, "the book is one that Orwell himself might have liked."

The book became the first novel to win the Orwell Prize for political writing since the award started 16 years ago.

Other books by Delia Jarrett-Macauley include: "The Life of Una Marson 1905-65" (Manchester University Press, 1998), a biography of the Jamaican feminist, activist and writer Una Marson, who established herself as a pioneering journalist, playwright and poet in the early 1920s; and, "Reconstructing Womanhood, Reconstructing Feminism: Writings on Black Women" (Routledge, 1996), which was the first British feminist anthology to examine concepts of womanhood and feminism within the context of "race" and ethnicity.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ambrose Musiyiwa

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