Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Burma Boy, 2007

A fairly unknown book by UK-based Nigerian writer Biyi Bandele, Burma Boy is a short and stark tale of a company of Nigerian soldiers stationed in Burma, fighting in the Second World War against the Japanese forces. It juxtaposes occasional comedy in the form of the strange antics of some of its characters with cruel descriptions of the intense fighting in the jungle. It's an exciting read but it's much too short! Clocking in at just 200 pages in huge type, I'd say it's about 1/20 the length of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, another contemporary take on WWII and right now the defining work of art on the topic for me.

Two years into the war, on a day so hot and stifling the usually bustling thoroughfares of Cairo were all but deserted, a spare, disheveled looking Englishman with a stooping gait staggered through the city’s dark alleyways and bazaars, jostling with horses, camels, bicycles, mopeds, pushcarts, pedestrians and cars, looking, he said, for a chemist. To every hawker he approached and tried to speak to, on narrow, congested streets wafting with the odour of ginger, cumin, sandalwood and mint; and at every shisha-pipe-smoke-filled coffee house he wandered into, it seemed, as he struggled to speak but seemed only to slur, that he was looking for something which existed only in his fever-sapped imagination; that much was clear, that this strange man, dressed in a British army uniform that hung loosely on his shrunken frame, and wearing a major’s rank, was in the grips of a fierce and crippling fever. He shivered under the blistering heat, his teeth clattering as if he were in the deep chill of an English winter’s day.

Burma Boy by Biyi Bandele

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