Only 23 years old, Iweala writes with incredible authority about civil war and political upheaval as they sweep across a fictional nation in West Africa. Agu, the narrator of this debut novel, is a young boy when his father is murdered by guerillas, and his mother and sister disappear. The book follows his development from orphaned, innocent bystander into full-blooded killer. Desperate for acceptance, Agu joins a guerilla faction led by a tyrant who encourages his men to murder and rape. In brutal surroundings, Agu fights to survive. Food is scarce, and he is attacked by the army leader. He is also surprised by his own capacity for violence. Yet memories of his family sustain Agu, and despite the horrors that surround him, he still retains hope for the future. As he struggles to find his place in an unwelcoming world, he narrates events in a voice that's unforgettable at once naive and wise, childlike and poetic. Iweala, winner of the New York Public Library's 2006 Young Lions Fiction Award, has a prose style and a narrative vision that are both wonderfully original. This is an accomplished first novel from a promising young author. A reading group guide is available online at

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