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Book of the week

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Patricia Pak Poy |  15 August 2008

Abani, Chris; Song for Night. Scribe, Melbourne, 2008. RRP $22.95. ISBN 9781921372094

Song for Night by Chris Abani, book cover In Song for Night Chris Abani draws the reader into the barbarism of war, of war using children whose voices have been silenced, whose experience is of ferocious degradation but whose very power to recall some past act of goodness is a saving insight for the child become soldier and for the whole of humanity — and all in simple and lyrical language.

My Luck is a 15-year-old 'mine diffuser' searching for his lost platoon in some war somewhere in West Africa. This lost time allows memories of home, of his Catholic mother and Muslim father, of Grandfather who taught him so much of a valued and valuable human life, of love even in the midst of the degradation that war and violence brings.

In the midst of all this the reader shares the horror of the child turned man before his time, of that child soldier forced to rape and kill, of his pride in leadership, of his fear in the face of being lost, of his sheer fatigue, and of his saving experience of love.

Abani draws the reader on through familiar images and poetic style even while he shocks the reader into realising that the experience being described is beyond the imagining of most. We catch ourselves basking in the lyrical language to find ourselves face-to-face with a child trapped standing on a landmine, starving people resorting to cannibalism or a soldier suffering the fear and fatigue of the one who is lost and who now wants to be found.

Always we see it from the point of view of My Luck. The the author ensures that the reader shares My Luck's experience, his version of the protocols from Major Essien's manual, his silent understanding, his sign language developed to fit the circumstances of mine diffusers who no longer can speak. A response is called for from the reader and that response is easily given: first horror, then sympathy, even empathy — then surprisingly, hope.

In this small book of memories, of poetic reflections, Abani forces us to look at our own experience and at the current situations of civil strife, of barbarous practices in war situations, of the use of child-soldiers, of desperate situations of poverty and starvation, of conflict arising out of racial and religious differences and the desperation of communities subjected to conflict.

Yet the very style and poetry of those 'signed' reflections, of thoughts of one-ness in difference, strangely, can give us hope. Song for Night can be strongly recommended for provocative reading.

Song for Night (Scribe)

HAVE YOU READ SONG FOR NIGHT? Post your review of 200 words or less below.

Patricia Pak PoyPatricia Pak Poy RSM is a graduate in Arts and Education of the University of Adelaide. She has served on the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and the national committee of Australian Catholic Relief. She has kept up an association with the Mercy and Jesuit Refugee Services, and with the UN Association of Australia.


Patricia Pak Poy


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Submitted comments

Surely you mean defuser? (Hard to imagine a worse job.)

Gavan 15 August 2008

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