Review

Child Soldier Chronicles

If you were brave enough to sit through the violent scenes in Blood Diamond, there’s a new book for you. War Child is another gripping account of civil war in Africa – but it’s written by a child soldier, and doesn’t feature Leonardo DiCaprio. As a young boy, Emmanuel Jal fought against the Sudanese army, which swept through his country in a violent ethnic cleaning. In order to find safety, Jal’s family migrated around Sudan, until he was moved, at age 9, to Ethiopia to join the southerner’s rebellion. Jal describes the rape and pillage he witnessed as a child. An aid worker rescued him in Ethiopia and helped him migrate to the UK, where he became a successful musician. The book is co-authored with Megan Lloyd Davies, which may complicate the purity of the writing. “Despite these grim contours, the story sometimes has the cloying feel of a fairy tale,” writes Howard French in a New York Times review. “This, perhaps, is a risk of the ‘as told to’ genre.” And while the book is rich on personal experience, it is somewhat thin on context; French observes that it offers only “a glimpse of the geopolitics of the war.” It’s hard to escape cliché with this plot line, no matter how gripping. According to French, for all Jal’s literary mastery, he slips finally into hackneyed prose: “War Child ends with its least compelling materials, a made-for-Hollywood account of how Mr. Jal succeeds as a antiwar musician, playing concerts around the world and toasted by the likes of Peter Gabriel.”