Deft shifts of tone—from affectionately comic to visceral—enlarge a novella that pays tribute to the African soldiers who fought in Southeast Asia during World War II.
Bandele, a Nigerian novelist, playwright and director, as well as the son of a Burma campaign veteran, delivers cultural richness and a powerful immediacy in his brief but intense evocation of jungle warfare against the Japanese. The prologue offers a stark snapshot of the British historical figure Major Orde Wingate, whose legendary Chindits suffered grueling conditions in Burma, fighting behind enemy lines. Having successfully led a guerrilla army against the Italians in Abyssinia, Wingate was sent to Burma where he set up six Chindit brigades including one entirely comprised of West Africans. Thirteen-year-old Ali Banana, the focal point of the book, is one of the eight Nigerian soldiers in D-Section whose camaraderie, banter, arguments and reminiscence highlight their diversity (Muslims and Christians; speakers of Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba, etc.) as well as their shared responses to the terrors and madness of combat. Airlifted into Burma, they undertake an exhausting march, ambush a Japanese convoy, then help defend White City, a British base under fearsome attack by bombers and suicide squads. Ali’s ultimate coming of age involves an act of courage far beyond his years.
A revelation of unsung heroism, distinguished by love of language and lightness of touch.