Book Review: ‘Radiance of Tomorrow’ by Ishmael Beah


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Imperi is a small settlement nearly demolished during Sierra Leone’s civil unrest.  After the war, its residents have slowly made their way back to Imperi to rebuild.  Like many other settlements in the country, Imperi was devastated by the civil war and most of the homes were destroyed.  The lucky families were only separated, but more often than not, family members perished in the aftermath.  Life will never be the same again, but those who have returned have cobbled together an existence, relying on one another to help ease the pain and raise the next generation.  School has once again started, though a poor government infrastructure combined with a corrupt principal means there are few supplies and teachers are not paid on time.  Additionally, big trucks have been rolling through the settlement, a consequence of the land deal with a mining company to extract the mineral rutile from the land.  Though the villagers think that the worst is behind them, after all, the war has been declared over and done, the battles they face with the mining company will ultimately test their mettle and challenge their way of life.

Beah jumped onto the scene in 2007 with his harrowing memoir, A Long Way Gone, documenting his years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.  In Radiance of Tomorrow, Beah delves deeper into the consequences of civil war on a village and its inhabitants.  Life in postwar Imperi is fragile at best.  The novel is told mainly from the perspectives of two Imperi teachers, Benjamin and Brockarie, the challenges they faced in trying to stress the importance of education in light of the fact that they themselves could barely afford to feed their families, and the abuses suffered by all Imperi residents with the onslaught of mining activities.

Radiance of Tomorrow is nothing short of heartbreaking.  Even though it is fiction, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the harrowing incidents were drawn from real life experiences.  The opening scene are elders, recently returned to Imperi, picking through the debris to collect bones of inhabitants that could not escape.  Beah writes in vivid detail, and it is difficult to comprehend that these acts of humanity happened in this generation.  It is equally difficult to fathom that for all the suffering citizens of Sierra Leone had to endure, there was little coverage of it in America.

Radiance of Tomorrow is stunning in its own right.  Beah gives a voice to people in a small village, powerless to stop to a big corporation, and powerless in the face of blatant corruption.  However, Radiance of Tomorrow will not outshine A Long Way Gone.  Because A Long Way Gone is a memoir, it resonates more with the reader.   I remember when reading A Long Way Gone, every few chapters I had to flip to the back to see a picture and Beah, and remember thinking, “I cannot believe he lived through that.”

There is little to fault about Radiance of Tomorrow, but one aspect I thought fell a little short was following through with some characters.  The novel is short, and while I see nothing with that, I do feel that the story was incomplete.  There wasn’t a proverbial sunset to ride off into, and the story was packed with characters.  But after turning the last page, I didn’t get the satisfactory sense of an ending.  That does show, however, how invested readers will be with Beah’s characters.

The Bottom Line: Radiance of Tomorrow is filled with sorrow, small moments of happiness, and is a constant reminder of how fragile and precious life is. I highly recommend this book.

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