Song for Night: A Novella
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"The moment you enter these pages, you step into a beautiful and terrifying dream. You are in the hands of a master, a literary shaman. Abani casts his spell so completely—so devastatingly—you emerge cleansed, redeemed, and utterly haunted."—Brad Kessler, author of Birds in Fall
Part Inferno, part Paradise Lost, and part Sunjiata epic, Song for Night is the story of a West African boy soldier’s lyrical, terrifying, yet beautiful journey through the nightmare landscape of a brutal war in search of his lost platoon. The reader is led by the voiceless protagonist who, as part of a land mine-clearing platoon, had his vocal chords cut, a move to keep these children from screaming when blown up, and thereby distracting the other minesweepers. The book is written in a ghostly voice, with each chapter headed by a line of the unique sign language these children invented. This book is unlike anything else ever written about an African war.
Chris Abani is a Nigerian poet and novelist and the author of The Virgin of Flames, Becoming Abigail (a New York Times Editor’s Choice), and GraceLand (a selection of the Today Show Book Club and winner of the 2005 PEN/Hemingway Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award). His other prizes include a PEN Freedom to Write Award, a Prince Claus Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. He lives and teaches in California.
back the way they came. The corpses seem to be mocking me. They seem to say, Don’t worry, you’ll be one of us soon, you’ll join us in this slow dance. My Luck is dead. This is what my mother would say if I die in this war. I say would because she is already dead; but that is another matter. My Luck: that’s what she named me, fourth son after three daughters, all of whom died of mysterious sicknesses before they were eight. In this culture, a woman who bears only daughters is not worth much to
through there was courting death. The new city was called Sabon Gari—infidel’s quarter. It was here that all the non-Muslims lived, conducted business, and had their churches. It was the commercial hub of the city. I had to cross five miles of Muslim-controlled territory before I got to the trains. Soon enough, I was stopped by a mob. “Who are you?” one of them asked me in Hausa. “Sheik Rimi’s boy,” I replied, also in fluent Hausa. The Fulani backed off. Sheik Rimi was important, not only
wish I had some coffee; strong, sweet, and black. I gather phlegm and spit into the water. The plains are man-made. Stumps point rudely where trees have been cut back. In some places, whole ghost forests hug the banks, trees half cut, dry, silver, and twisted. It has a tortured beauty. Before the war, the government gave grants to farmers on the plains to encourage and develop sheep farming. The amount of the grant was determined by the number of sheep each farmer had. People began to inflate
it’s a ghost bullet. I look over at Ijeoma and now she is laughing. Silently, of course, but no less abandoned. I am in shock for a moment, then I drop my head back and howl at the moon. The hard convulsions of my throat, not the sound, wakes me. I shiver in the dark. Something disturbs the fruit bats, maybe a python, and they scatter from their perches in the trees into the night, their wings like the sound of a hundred ghosts and their high-pitched squeals unbearable. It drives me to a deeper
are as valuable as bullets. We have no generous superpower sugar-daddies and we reuse every mine that we successfully defuse. Waste not want not. To counter these ambushes, the rebel leaders came up with the funnel. The name reminds me of the white cone my dog wore after he was neutered, and I can hardly make the sign for it without cracking up in soundless mirth. At the tapered end of the funnel, which is the front, are the scouts and mine diffusers. The scouts are split into two groups: the