Critical Appreciation of Song for Night by Chris Abani
I read this novel a few years ago, while I was doing my Master’s at the Universidad Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. The story is so powerful and so intense that I could do nothing else on that day, but read and read, and read. After I had finished the novel, I felt nothing, and everything. The critical appreciation underneath is the original essay which I wrote on this topic.
“Tenderness and fear, as well as kindness and love can never be voiced; they have to remain hushed and unspoken. The terror of war does not recognize words and does not speak a language. War orders, pushes around and throws onto the ground. War devours. In my opinion, the worst thing about war is not all the houses that get burned down or the people who get killed; for me, the malice of war lies in the absolutely frightening fact that it eats souls; it rips humanity out of people. Can you still call yourself a person if you are soulless, if you, catching a sight of yourself in a mirror, see but an animal hungry for blood?
This novel is so much more than just a novel. It is a unique treasure – it is a dictionary of war. The entries are not death, kill or opponent. On the contrary, Abani chooses the sweetest and dearest words to explain: imagination, soul, mercy, mother, home. Moreover, he does not just describe the words, he paints them. The images are so strong that they carve into the reader’s mind as a memory remembered. We do not read about his pain, we feel it. It transcends the words and pages; it is not yet another story. Song for Night is yet another proof of the absurdity of war and the effect it has on people. It is a warning against the atrocity and madness.
The narrator of the story is a 13-year-old boy caught up in the midst of violence. It seems as if My Luck stands for all the boy soldiers used in the Biafran War in Africa, but at the same time, he speaks for all the children and adults alike who have found themselves in war. His narration is sophisticated, poetic and smooth. He is not trying to impress us, or to amaze us. After the death of his parents, My Luck is recruited into the unit of the army that defuses the unmapped mines. The mines are scattered all over the area just as the corpses will be scattered later. The unmapped mines, the unmarked graves. On his journey through the territory, My Luck stumbles on dead bodies both on water and land. In the middle of that madness, he has not lost his humanity and sense of morality, we can see that the narrator has a great respect for the human kind; he buries some bodies, and tries not to disturb the others.
As all the other children who were mine diffusers, My Luck had his vocal cords cut out. The army did so in order to prevent the others from getting scared after hearing a scream of a dying child. Those children cannot have a voice, they cannot speak since there is no one they can turn to; there is no one to hear their cry. Moreover, no one cares. One of the causes of the Biafra War was the British organization of the country of Nigeria; it was convenient for them to have all the black community organized in one country. The people did not just belong to different nationalities, but to different religions as well. With the discovery of oil in the region, human greed took the war over. And, as My Luck says, after some time, you get used to seeing death and torture. In big wars, small people do not exist. We tend to remember the big names, the big treaties and big victories. To collect all the stories of the people who took part in the war or, even more disturbing, of all the ones who were killed in the war would be impossible to digest. In his famous “Anthem for Doomed Youth” Wilfred Owen, commenting on the atrocity of the WW1 compares soldiers to cattle dying in the slaughterhouse of war. In Song for Night, Abani’s narrator repeats that all they did was sleep, kill, and eat. A life of an average predator. They are animals, cattle. My Luck is different because he has not lost his sense of humanity, he loves and hurts; he remembers and longs; he cares. He is still human.
This novel is a journey. Deprived of his childhood, his parents, the narrator has no sense of identity or belonging. He got lost somewhere along the way. He travels through his memories to regain himself. Reclaim his identity. The novel is short – his life is short. His song for night is the sky full of stars which gives him light and shows him which way to go. ‘You have all the light you need inside you,’ the light is kindness, love, empathy.”
After reading his other works, I simply wrote an email to the author, expressing my love for his books, and he responded!!! He thanked me for the essay (I also attached that) and the kind words. Such a great man!
This is not an easy read, not just another little book that you can pick up and put down just like that. It is a great novel, and it will make you cry. But is probably one of the greatest postcolonial novels ever written.