WHAT NIALL SAW by Brian Cullen


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A few weeks in the aftermath of a nuclear war as experienced by a seven-year-old Irish boy, doomed--along with his parents and four-year-old sister--to illness and death from fallout. This is his diary. What Niall saw on the day of the ""Booms"" was strange orange stuff in streaks far off, and what he heard was the Booms and planes and breaking glass and ""hooshing"" curtains and people running and screaming and ""every doorbell ringed on the road. . .and the houses all shaking and creeping like ours."" (The author has attempted an approximation of seven-year-old diction and spelling--occasionally mildly irritating.) Then come the long days and nights in the tiny cupboard under the stairs, crowded in, with a diminishing supply of food, the family dog, weakening battery-powered light; and behind the regimen of games, prayers and singing, there are clues to a terrible adult knowledge. Niall notes his parents' nighttime ""rows"" (in spite of what his teacher has said, marriage ""do not look lovely to me""), and Niall sees his Daddy cry for the first time (""He looked funny and I nearly almost laught""). But the little boy, who misses his TV programs, his Starbuster launcher, and biking with his friend, dutifully does his part in the parents' struggle to survive in a nightmare. Food gone, the family moves into the rest of the house (although Daddy would not let them look out the window); they burn furniture for warmth; there is no water. The dog, the first to lose hair and be covered with sores, ""disappears"" and a ""bad man"" comes with a gun. At the close, the family drives away in the car amid corpses and starving gangs of people. Little sister dies first, and Niall's final entry asks God: ""Please come back to us. We are loney."" Empathic depictions of the suffering of a child are probably the quickest, and most potent, routes to an indictment of mankind's homocidal lunacies--and those who toy with thinking the unthinkable. In spite of Niall's stunning goodness, he's an appealing tyke, and the message packs a wallop.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's