Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index


to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Allah is not obliged

Ahmadou Kourouma

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Allah is not obliged

Title: Allah is not obliged
Author: Ahmadou Kourouma
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 233 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Allah is not obliged - US
Allah is not obliged - UK
Allah is not obliged - Canada
Allah n'est pas obligé - Canada
Allah n'est pas obligé - France
Allah muss nicht gerecht sein - Deutschland
  • French title: Allah n'est pas obligé
  • Translated by Frank Wynne
  • Awarded the Prix Renaudot and the Prix Goncourt des lycéens

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, wild story of contemporary African horrors

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist A 25/11/2000 .
Foreign Policy A 5-6/2001 Rémy Ourdan
FAZ . 11/2/2003 Joseph Hanimann
The Guardian . 12/8/2006 Aminatta Forna
Libération A+ 21/9/2000 Eric Loret
Le Monde diplomatique . 12/2000 Anne Kichenapanaïdou
Neue Zürche Zeitung . 11/1/2003 Heinz Hug
TLS . 20/10/2006 Anthony Cummins

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "The first-person narrative deftly captures the mixture of horror, fascination and detachment with which a child views the world of grown-up folly." - The Economist

  • "It is not only the gruesome plight of African small soldiers that has made this story resonate with the public. As in his previous novels, Kourouma takes liberties with syntax and writes in an Africanized French that is bizarre, cruel, and inventive; he enticed the French public with his new uses of the language. (...) It is a novel that, even if its realism brings readers to the heights of cruelty, does not remain any less magical or captivating." - Rémy Ourdan, Foreign Policy

  • "Wo jeder Erlöser vom herrschenden Übel noch größeres Übel bringt und Tyrannen vor der ganzen Welt die Freiheit ihrer Völker verbürgen, fällt es auch Allah schwer, gerecht zu sein in allen Dingen. Lachen ist ihm dann gefälliger als Bitten und Klagen. Ahmadou Kourouma hat dieses Lachen zu Literatur gemacht. Sabine Herting hat es einfühlsam und sorgfältig, manchmal vielleicht sogar etwas zu sorgfältig am französischen Original haftend, übersetzt. Das Fazit bleibt dasselbe: Auch Bandenführer lassen die Kinder gern zu sich kommen." - Joseph Hanimann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Through Kourouma's skilful telling, the characters live on the page. He employs satire, though never stoops to stereotype, even in his depiction of the various warlords, who view the child-soldiers with expediency but also with immense sentimentality. (...) Kourouma's style is quick and deft, employing broad brush strokes, preferring summary over scene. In places, his writing appears less than finely polished, though in this instance his hurried style lends a breathlessness to the child's narrative. Some quirks, though, can become irksome -- the decision to include frequent glossary entries, even for well understood terms, in the body of the text, for example." - Aminatta Forna, The Guardian

  • "Dès les premières lignes de ce texte en bataille, épineux et dissonant, le lecteur se sent pris en charge par un puissant démiurge. On s'abandonne donc à la lecture d'Allah n'est pas obligé comme à celle d'un classique ­- mais d'un classique moderne. (...) Allah n'est pas obligé est un grand livre, c'est qu'il s'installe dans sa propre langue et que cette question du langage est même le sujet du récit" - Eric Loret, Libération

  • "Clin d'oeil à Céline, auteur préféré de Kourouma, qui, au-delà de l'invention des mots et de la dextérité dans la langue française, nous décrit des scènes (...) dignes d'un véritable voyage au bout de l'horreur. (...) La prouesse de l'auteur est d'écrire dans la peau d'un enfant de dix ans." - Anne Kichenapanaïdou, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "Kouroumas mit dem Prix Renaudot ausgezeichneter Roman ist auch in dieser reduzierten Form lesenswert. Birahimas Initiationsreise, die manchmal an Mutter Courage erinnert -- vor allem Yacouba versucht überall seinen Schnitt zu machen --, zeichnet ein ungeschöntes Bild Westafrikas, das auch die Einflüsse von aussen nicht unterschlägt. In einer Sprache, die durch ihren Witz und ihre Anleihen beim komplexen Gemenge gesprochener Lokalsprachen äusserst lebendig und farbig wirkt." - Heinz Hug, Neue Zürche Zeitung

  • "Despite such grave material, Kourouma's writing is stylistically inventive, even playful. (...) It isn't only the painful subject matter that makes this book so challenging to read. If all of Ahmadou Kourouma's fiction it is the least interested in narrative, as opposed to narration. (...) Allah Is Not Obliged is not so much a novel as a bravura monologue on the atrocities of West Africa's recent history." - Anthony Cummins, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Allah n'est pas obligé is narrated by a young boy, Birahima. Not even a teenager, the boy gets caught up in the regional turmoils and conflicts, a boy-soldier witness to the outrages perpetrated by the corrupt and evil leaders of various West African countries, especially Liberia and Sierra Leone, in the mid-1990s. Sadly, the book is hardly fiction, the events that are described solidly based in fact.
       Birahima is an engaging guide. He writes with the help of four dictionaries as he tries to present his "vie de merde" in passable French. Part of the charm of the narrative is the energetic use of language: Kourouma typically mixes Malinke and pidgin in his books, but here he makes more of an effort to make the text approachable to his foreign audience. Many of the terms are parenthetically explained -- including many of the French ones, whose meaning is often more broadly (or more narrowly, or more sharply) interpreted, given the circumstances in which Birahima finds himself in.
       In beginning his account, Birahima describes it as his "blablabla" There is indeed a profusion of stories here: Birahima's convoluted personal saga as well as the the stories of the West African despots (and specifically: the atrocities they commit) -- much of which is presented straightforwardly as factual account.
       The definitive and full title of his account is: "Allah n'est pas obligé d'être juste dans toutes ses choses ici-bas." And there isn't much justness to be found along Birahima's way. The boy acknowledges and accepts: "Allah fait ce qu'il veut."
       Both Birahima's parents die, his mother literally suppurating and finally rotting to death. Orphaned, he sets off in search of a far-away aunt, hoping to find family and stability -- but stability of any sort is hard to come by in these lands. He winds up becoming one of the many "small-soldiers" or "children-soldiers" in Liberia and Sierra Leone: part of the unpaid marauding bands who carried out much of the terrorizing and murder in these countries where there was no civil order -- indeed, almost no order of any kind -- at that time. He has little choice: everyone has to take part in a constant and particularly ruthless struggle for survival.
       Birahima and the other small soldiers are still children, but this is a world without innocence. For the children there are no other options, no other possibilities, and essentially no hope. They are grossly taken advantage of -- and ruthlessly sacrificed if need be.
       Birahima tells of the crimes and outrages of several of the so-called leaders responsible for the instability in the region, in particular: Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and Prince Johnson. There are also lengthy digressions providing historical and personal background, with the novel switching to straightforward polemic. Together it makes for a sad and gruesome litany. For an audience that is largely unfamiliar with the region (and the personalities that have perpetrated so many horrors) this information is certainly of use -- though one wonders whether some may not read it disbelievingly entirely as fiction.
       The child-narrator remains wilfully individual, not completely corrupted and destroyed by what he has been drawn into. Kourouma gives him a lively voice, and conveys his sadness and incomprehension and frustration in the face of the inhumane behaviour he witnesses at every turn. His adventures do finally come to an end -- as there is escape from the despair -- and the book is brought full circle to where he begins his tale.

       Allah n'est pas obligé is a sometimes uneasy mix of fact and fiction, as Kourouma provides a great deal of information about these criminal despots responsible for ruining so many lives. Nevertheless, it is a riveting story, helped especially by Birahima's buoyant story-telling (complete with curses and cries).

- Return to top of the page -


Allah is not obliged: Reviews: Ahmadou Kourouma: Other books by Ahmadou Kourouma under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Index of books relating to Africa

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Ahmadou Kourouma was born in the Ivory Coast in 1927 and died in 2003.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2002-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links