Tuesday, 9 April 2013
The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
I had mixed feelings about this book, although the good outweighed the bad. I just loved the blunt, forward tone of the narration and found it extremely refreshing. The People of Forever are Not Afraid is not a 'nice' book, it's brutal in places but it's abrupt and feels raw and honest. There's no purple prose, just soldiers dying from Russian Roulette, girls shooting ice water into their veins and teenagers playing with guns. Parts of the narrative were written in a stream of consciousness style, and Boianjiu is very good at portraying how the emotional crises of being a young adult can be amplified by the militaty setting;
"I tried and I tried to pretend that I was an olive tree. I told myself that I lived, and I lived, and even when there were tumours exploding under my bones and predators eating out my eyes, I thought I'd die but I didn't. I stood frozen, eyes open, my arms misshapen in the air; I tried forever to be an olive tree, I swear."
The first half of the book was the most compelling as it dealt with the girls being conscripted and their experiences during training and their first posting. This was all completely fascinating and Boianjiu maintained ambiguity about the morality of what the three main characters were doing. I read with interest about learning to withstand poison gas, learning how to shoot accurately, and how to check Palestinan border permits. The book at this point was still a collection of stories, but they all hung together coherently around a common theme.
However, in the second half of the book, the narrative thread became too loose as Boianjiu wrote about what happened to the girls after the war, after the army. The book meanders between the characters almost aimlessly and a number of new perspectives were introduced. Yael, Avishag and Lea seemed to blend into each other, until I had trouble telling them apart. I don't mind a book that's really a collection of stories, but I need more connection than this.
If I was just judging on the first half of the book, I would be giving an extremely high rating for the bluntness and emotional rawness of the narrative tone. I loved that, and think Boianjiu is a very talented writer. Unfortunately, the second half was too meandering for me. I would still recommend this book though, I've read nothing like it before.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
First Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5