Title: Burma Boy
Author: Biyi Bandele
Publisher: Farafina (Kachifo Limited)
AT FOURTEEN, Ali Banana is ready to become a man. He has joined Kingi Joji’s army and is fighting his way to manhood in Burma as a private in the 12th Battalion of the Nigerian Regiment. Burma Boy is a moving account of the role African soldiers like Ali Banana played in the Second World War. While it is based on actual events, the humanity of the characters Bandele creates in this novel lends a face to the statistics of the war and brings history to life. Ali’s comrades are from diverse backgrounds and their differences initially cause conflicts. However, as they march through the jungle with bombs exploding around them, their differences fade to the background. The violence they unleash and experience together unites them in a bond that defies tribal and religious differences.
At once humorous and heart wrenching, the novel highlights the power of war to bind and break humans. Ali Banana is one of the few that make it to the end of the novel alive. He is no longer the boy he had been nor has he become the man he set out to be. Burma Boy is the ironic tale of those who like Ali Banana fought a coloniser’s war with extraordinary courage. Bandele’s re-enactment of their experience in this short but powerful novel is vivid, compassionate and unforgettable.
– Ayobami Olusola