Beneath the Darkening Sky

Majok Tulba

Beneath the Darkening Sky
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Beneath the Darkening Sky

Majok Tulba

Read Alice Pung’s interview with Majok Tulba, author of Beneath The Darkening Sky.

When the rebels come to Obinna’s village, they do more than wreak terror for one night. Lining the children up in the middle of the village, they measure them against the height of an AK-47. Those who are shorter than the gun are left behind. Those who are taller are taken. Obinna and his older brother Akot find themselves the rebel army’s newest recruits.

But while Akot almost willingly surrenders to the training, Obinna resists, determined not to be warped by the revolution’s slogans and violence. In the face of his vicious captain’s determination to break him, Obinna finds help in a soldier called Priest, and in the power of his own dreams.

Beneath the Darkening Sky describes a life unimaginably different from our own, but one that is the experience of tens of thousands of child soldiers. Uncompromising, vivid and raw, it is an astonishing portrait of a mind trying to make sense of a senseless world.

Majok Tulba himself was shorter than the AK-47, and came to Australia from South Sudan as a refugee in 2001. This is the story of what might have happened to him had he been an inch taller.

‘Seen through the striking simplicity of a child’s eyes, and told through a voice gripping and strong, Majok Tulba’s powerful novel resonates long after the last page.’ Alice Pung

‘It does what great literature can, which is to make something beautiful out of terror and truth. Beneath the Darkening Sky is a meticulous and noble examination of violence and evil, and of how the most innocent people anywhere can be broken and, possibly remade.’ Anna Funder


majoktulba 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*

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