IN THE SHADOW OF FREEDOM by Tchicaya Missamou


A Boy Soldier’s Heroic Journey to Manhood and Liberation
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A remarkable escape story by a young soldier caught in the devastating Congo civil war.

Assisted by screenwriter and playwright Sentell, Missamou recounts his story in layered time periods, moving back from a visit he made to the Congo in 2004 as a U.S. Marine graduate, when he was abruptly arrested and imprisoned for five harrowing days until the U.S. government pressed for his release. The son of a local Lari police officer in Brazzaville, the author came of age during the murderous tribal wars that tore the country apart in the 1990s. Until age eight he lived in the care of his mother, one of his father’s multiple wives, in a small village, then went to live with his father and numerous siblings in Poto-Poto. Missamou learned early on that an enormous gulf separated him and his impoverished friends from the world of the white people, called mundelé, like the family of his best friend and adored girlfriend. He killed a gorilla during his requisite manhood-initiation rites, and agreed to undergo grueling military training to appease his father. Sectarian violence among the three ethnic divisions (the M’Bochis, the Laris and the Niboleks) erupted twice during this time—in 1992, when Missamou and his adolescent friends were formed into makeshift, gun-toting guard units; and in 1997, when he was able to bring to safety his family and some wealthy white settlers, who in turn bought his plane tickets out of the country. Missamou and Sentell create a stylish, suspenseful narrative that does not spare graphic details. The author’s escape from the country and ability to hoodwink passport officials from Switzerland to the United States constituted a near miracle, and his first scenes of Paris and Sacramento are both funny and moving.

An open-armed welcome by the Marines is suspiciously rah-rah, but overall, a polished, engaging story of courage and will.

Pub Date: Aug. 3rd, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4391-1629-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2010