James Gault reviews Silver Lining – The saga of an orphan by Alieu Bundu
This novel by a Sierra-Leonean author about the struggles in his country against war and poverty is a must-read for all of us living in comfortable Western industrialised societies.
A word of warning, though. The novel is not written in a conventional English that we are familiar with; the author has chosen to tell his story in the version of English spoken in his native land. For purists of the English this will be sacrilege, and even for the more tolerant it is challenging. You have to read it as a novel written in a dialect which seems on one hand quite easy to understand, but at a deeper level is confusing. Although all the words are familiar, in some places the word choice seems strange. There are phrases, for example ‘okay?’ and ‘you must be joking’ which to UK and US readers will have a light-hearted connotation, but in this novel are used by serious people in very serious situations. Readers should not allow themselves to be misled by this. The language is a challenge, but the themes and content are so important that the challenge is worth it.
The story relates a series of incidents in the life of a young boy whose life is disrupted by war, death and crime as he tries to find salvation through education. He encounters evil people, some gratuitously evil and others victims of their circumstances. But he meets good people too: people who help him or other victims like him, who have their own story to tell. Some may argue that the characters are too ‘black and white’, but in a land where war, murder, rape, child soldiers, sexual exploitation are all endemic, nuancing characters is perhaps a luxury that would detract from the hopelessness and horror the author is bring to our attention.
The themes of this book are those which are taken up by foreign journalists who go on to win prestigious awards. This book surpasses that. It’s an authentic story from a local writer giving us a first-hand account of terror and deprivation, but also of kindness and optimism. It’s a unique opportunity for us to go beyond the newsreels.
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