THE KING’S RIFLE by Biyi Bandele
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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.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-158266-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2008