Review | Sunday 01 July 2012
Majok Tulba was nine when the Sudanese Armed Forces invaded his village, killing many people including some of his family. Most of the young boys were forced to join the SAF but Tulba was exempted because he was shorter than the AK-47 that the SAF used to measure recruits. He escaped with his younger brother and, after years of living in refugee camps, came to Australia at the age of 16.
Beneath the Darkening Sky is the ‘what if?’ version of Tulba’s experiences. What if he had been taller than that AK-47? What if he had been recruited by the SAF and made to join the war raging in his homeland? What if he had become one of the tens of thousands of child soldiers roaming the country, inducted into a life of violence?
Tulba tells the story of 11-year-old Obinna, whose village is attacked and who is forced to join the SAF along with his older brother. It is the moving story of a compassionate young boy who tries to resist the savagery he is faced with, even as his brother succumbs, but I found the novel most remarkable for its subtle portrayal of how even the most innocent can be corrupted when pushed too far.
Beneath the Darkening Sky is an important addition to Australian literature, not only because of its eloquent and heartfelt examination of humanity under duress, but also for the insights it might offer us into the lives of some of our newest Australians.
Kabita Dhara is editor of the Readings Monthly