November 14, 2005 12:00 PM

brisk 142 pages, Agu and his friend Strika remain engaging heroes even as they are forced to murder and pillage. Other members of the group are less reluctant to follow orders. When a soldier named Luftenant dies of stab wounds, he teaches a bitter lesson: “I am seeing that the only way not to be fighting is to die,” Agu realizes. “I am not wanting to die.” Iweala refuses to judge his characters, though the atrocities they commit are horrifying. As a result Agu leaps off the page, a child of war in the midst of a harrowing ordeal. This is a remarkable novel; that its author is just 23—a recent Harvard grad who grew up in both Washington, D.C., and Nigeria—suggests a dazzling literary future.

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