Two impoverished young African friends strike out for the diamond fields of Kono in this harrowing, heartfelt debut novel by a Sierra Leone national.
Restless to escape his life as a subsistent farmer in West Africa, Yandi enlists his best pal, Mila, in an audacious plan to leave their poverty-stricken village of Simbaru for what they envision will be a life of gainful employment in the “big city.” They start out broke and illiterate, however, which severely limits their prospects. A resolute Yandi shunts aside a disturbing nightmare that forecasts his impending doom, defies his revered father’s directive to say put, and slips out of his familiar village with the steadfast Mila at his side. Bound for city of Kono, the two friends are immediately offered jobs with an illegal outfit mining precious diamonds. For the two industrious young men, the offer of real wages and a place to stay seems like a godsend, and they’re quick to accept the terms of their employment without question. This emotionally charged saga, told exclusively through Yandi’s point of view, is genuinely moving; the author’s story mixes unmitigated cruelty with inspiring bravery, as he boldly confronts a truly predatory industry in all its perniciousness. For example, after the hopeful young men find out that they’ve essentially signed up for indentured servitude, they’re warned against giving any indication—true or not—that they might have swallowed any diamonds. Even suspicion of “thievery” in this hellish environment can subject a miner to the Gaandoe, “a simple, crudely designed torture device....[I]ts two stout prongs looked like the open jaws of a crocodile.” The author shows how the Simbaru duo never lose sight of their dreams, even when the cold, uncaring realities of the diamond mining operation inexorably engulf their unflagging spirit.
An exceedingly sensitive, important story of indomitable will.