Adamalui: A Survivor’s Journey From Civil Wars In Africa To Life In America, by Joseph Kaifala
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Turner Publishing. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Despite our obvious differences in backgrounds, there was a lot here that I was able to relate to from this memoir in my own observation and experience: the ubiquity of Peugeot cars in West Africa, the tension between temporary and permanence for refugees , the experience of graduating from an IB school, and the uncertainties of traveling to a new country when things go wrong. Among the most appealing parts of this book is the author’s resourcefulness as well as his determination to rise out of the circumstances of his birth and childhood through education, as well as his critical and clear-eyed view of those around him, some of whom may not greatly appreciate their appearance in these pages. That said, for those readers who are interested in a complex tale of a complicated situation about civil wars that affected three nations: Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, in all of which the author had roots and experience living in, this is definitely a worthwhile and interesting book.
One thing that should be clear to readers of this book is that the author is not interested in telling a straightforward tale. This is a strikingly personal narrative about education as a ticket out of a hopeless situation, and it does not attempt a sophisticated political analysis of the structural problems of the West African countries in which the author lived as a child whether it was home, a refugee camp, or staying with far-flung relatives in search of elusive security and stability. The book skips around in its chronology, beginning with a discussion of the context of the author’s youth and the way that his family was scattered and full of complex backgrounds and then moving to a negative experience with the U.S. Embassy in Oslo where his initial attempts at getting a student visa were denied. After that it jumps back and forth to look at the author’s varied experience as a child “war” prisoner, as a refugee, as an able student at one of Freetown’s elite public schools, and as a resourceful young man with a great deal of critical commentary to make about political leaders, family members who did not uphold their responsibilities or meet social expectations, as well as the trauma of war. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the author uses his own narrative as an appeal for the nations of the west to be more compassionate to other refugees and ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the door open for his memoir about life in the United States as a sequel.
How much you like this book will depend on a variety of factors. For one, this book expresses a complex reality of life on the ground in West Africa and presents a remarkably human view of the horrors of the civil wars of the time. The author is clear to differentiate between children caught up in circumstances beyond their control and ordinary people driven to arm themselves and defend themselves in the face of destruction and treachery among their armed forces and the leaders whose egos and petty rivalries were more blameworthy. He also has a lot to say about the importance of social norms of hospitality as well as the resourcefulness of the ordinary people of West Africa in coping with their situation and the hopelessness of their situation that leads many people to despair of having any worthwhile life in their homelands, which leads the best and brightest among them, including the author, to seek a better life abroad so as to be able to support their families and fulfill their own aspirations of a better life. The author’s complicated religious background combining Christianity and Islam as well as an awareness of the indigenous heathen religious traditions also adds some interest here. Readers who are irritated by post-colonial approaches will probably find the author’s asides about African music and literature and the approach of negritude to be a bit tedious and tiresome, though, it should be noted.
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