The gentle, folktale-like narrative style of Ishmael Beah’s compelling debut novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, belies the endemic injustice and brutality in the story it tells. The Sierra Leone-born Beah, now living in the U.S., first shared his country’s dark reality with A Long Way Gone, a memoir of his violent experiences as a child soldier during its harrowing civil war. For his first work of fiction, Beah again takes readers to his West African homeland with the story of a rural village, ravaged and abandoned during the war, attempting an uneasy rebirth.

The author of the bestseller 'A Long Way Gone' presents a soaring work of fiction.

The first to return to Imperi are three elders, who honor the unidentifiable dead by burying their bones. Soon others begin to come back and repopulate the town, including two teachers, Bockarie and Benjamin, both idealists who believe in the future despite the ugly past they have witnessed. A former child soldier, simply called the Colonel, becomes the “Man in Charge” of a group of damaged orphans like himself, including a repentant boy once forced to amputate the hands of the innocent.

At first the town enjoys a degree of success in getting back on its feet, but everything changes when a foreign-owned mining company returns to extract the rich vein of rutile from the earth. The exploitation of the land and the cheap, expendable labor force drawn from the native population devastates the town, the mining company paying little heed to local traditions. Each successive tragedy—a polluted water source, the rapes of local girls, the unrecorded deaths of workers in industrial accidents—further tears the fabric of Imperi. Still, the elders hold onto a diminishing hope.

Beah writes with a quiet confidence that borrows much from the oral tradition in which he was raised. His arresting style also bears a debt to an earlier generation of post-colonial writers such as Chinua Achebe. The last few chapters, when Bockarie and his family leave Imperi and try their luck in the capital city of Freetown, are less successful than the rest of the book—hurried and a bit overstuffed with incident—but Radiance of Tomorrow is an impressive fiction debut by a talented writer with a singular tale to tell.

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