After his much-lauded memoir, A Long Way Gone, was published in 2007, Ishmael Beah turned his hand to fiction. Radiance of Tomorrow, his first novel, was the latest Brown Baggers discussion pick. Beah’s personal history and writing made for a thought-provoking and fruitful lunchtime chat.
For readers unfamiliar with Beah, his memoir detailed his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. At the beginning of our discussion, we discussed the author’s background as well as some basic facts outlining the Sierra Leone Civil War. One group member had attended one of the author’s readings and shared a full, glowing report.
As some reviewers noted, the novel has elements of a parable or moral tale; perhaps only appropriate, as storytelling is such a core part of the plot and culture. The Colonel was noted by many readers as one of the most intriguing characters. In some ways, his actions made him seem almost omniscient or not of this world, adding to the mythic atmosphere of the book.
Because a few members had read the memoir, we also compared the two books. In both, the descriptions of violence during the civil war were difficult to read. Perhaps because Beah’s own life turned around so drastically, we felt that the novel still encompassed a hopeful outlook. Even outside of wartime, there was still so much brutality once the mining company had set up in the area. The descriptions of family life, light humor, and warm depictions of the community were a pleasure to read, though, and made for an affecting contrast.
Radiance of Tomorrow is available as JMRL book kit, along with many other titles. These kits come with multiple copies of the book and discussion questions to make your next book group meeting a snap.
Visit the author’s official website.
Learn more about Sierra Leone using Literati, a database available through JMRL (use your library card number to log in).
Read a review from the Washington Post or New York Times.
Hear the author speak about writing, or, many Brown Baggers recommend videos of Beah’s visits to the Daily Show in 2007 and the Colbert Report in 2014.
Looking for a readalike? Try one of these titles or ask for a recommendation through JMRL’s What Do I Read Next? service.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ancestor Stones by Aminatta Forna
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Children Are Diamonds: An African Apocalypse by Edward Hoagland
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee
The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Join the Brown Baggers on Thursday, March 10 at noon to discuss The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. This is the 2016 Big Read selection, so make sure to visit jmrl.org/bigread for more information and to see a full schedule of programs all through March.