Burma Boy


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Barnaby Phillips follows the life of one of the forgotten heroes of World War II.

More filters. Sort order. Feb 12, Tony rated it liked it Shelves: novels. This slender book is set mostly in that theater and, inspired by the author's father's own service in Burma as part of the King's African Rifles, seeks to both remind the reader of its relevance and the role of the many West African troops mostly Nigerian who we Like most Americans, I know almost nothing about the Burmese theater in World War II.

Burma Boys: African soldiers in Asia during World War II

This slender book is set mostly in that theater and, inspired by the author's father's own service in Burma as part of the King's African Rifles, seeks to both remind the reader of its relevance and the role of the many West African troops mostly Nigerian who were sent there to fight on behalf of the Allied forces.

The result is a bit of an odd duck -- more a series of sketches than a fully realized narrative. The book is littered with nuggets of history, research, and championing that, while interesting don't feel quite like they belong. So, for example, we learn enough intriguing details about "Janan" General Wingate that one's interest is perhaps piqued enough to go seek out biographies such as Christopher Sykes's Orde Wingate and Trevor Royle's Order Wingate: Irregular Soldier.

Or we learn the technical aspects of jungle siegecraft or ambuscade. But at the heart of the book is year-old soldier Farabiti "Ali Banana" whose adventures paint a sketch of the trials and tribulations faced by young soldiers like the author's father. Through him, we follow the recruitment, training, and deployment of the West African Rifles to Burma as part of the "Chindit" forces sent to harass the Japanese rear lines. He and his fellows in D-Section represent a cross-section of Nigerians who encounter the numbing brutality of jungle warfare, endless siege, and sudden bursts of terror.

Each character has their own tic or distinctive trait, but they're sketched too briefly to really register. Instead, we get scattered scenes which convey the broader feeling of confusion and comradeship the war induces. For example, the descriptions of the nightly Japanese attacks on the fortified base known as "White City" are highly effective and act as a small scale foreshadowing of Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sahn. Ultimately, while the book is too impressionistic for my taste, it did whet my appetite to learn more about the Chindits in general, and the West African contribution in particular.

One interesting aspect to the book is the language, which is peppered with phonetic Nigerian pidgin English, which, while sometimes hard to decipher, helps give the story some flavor. Dec 21, Beverly rated it really liked it. These soldiers were part the Allied Special Forces, known as Chindits, named after the Burmese mythical winged lion. While this was a diverse group of soldiers, little is known about the African soldiers and their contributions to the war effort.

The story also centers on the coming-of-age of Ali Banana. Ali Banana, a thirteen year-old, who is indentured as apprentice to a cruel blacksmith, decides on a whim to follow his older friends as they march off to join the British to fight a war they know little about. Ali's superior know that he is underage, but they are not aware how young he really is and is soon shipped off to be trained in India in preparation of being dropped behind enemy lines in the Burma jungle.

While Ali is a fictional character, the horrors of war we witness through his eyes are all based on factual events. The author's background as a playwright is evident as the novel reads like a play with dialogue setting the scenes for us.

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The scenes were played out in my mind as if I were watching a play. One of the most effective uses of dialogue in the book is in ordinary conversations among the men as they wait for the nightly attacks from the Japanese. Through these conversations we learn of the differences among the West Africans that are part of the Chindits, in their religion and tribal differences. The author also addresses the issues of race and class that existed during the time period, but does it in an implicit manner.

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But this is primarily a military story and the author has done his research on the techniques and cruelties from both the British and Japanese. I enjoyed reading about this lesser known piece of history but I believe having more historical background incorporated into the storyline would have enhanced the reading experience. I recommend this book for fans of historical fiction and military history. Readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories will also be interested in the learning how Ali learns about the larger world and becomes a man. View 1 comment.

Jun 13, Greg rated it really liked it. Proud, quick-tongued, and thirteen years old, he is not easily domesticated to army discipline -- the comic possibilites are fully exploited.

The King's Rifle: A Novel

Diverted by an inopportune case of small pox to General Orde Wingate's Chindits, a special forces brigade formed to operate behind Japanese lines, Ali Banana has an especially grueling Cracking good story, by turns comic and horrific, of a Nigerian boy who two years into WW2 enlists with the Royal West African Field Force to fight in Burma for King George. The seven other members of his section, all West Africans and his family for the duration, make a wonderful ensemble cast.


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Based on the stories with which Bandele grew up -- his father had served with the Chindits in Burma as a very young man -- and buttressed by careful but not obtrusive research, this is a cracking good story Published in the UK as "Burma Boy". Burma Boy is a story of a forgotten history: the role that West African and specifically Nigerian troops played in winning World War Two, in particular fighting the Japanese in Asia.

The book appealed to me especially because my great-uncle was a "Boma boy" and fought for the British. I enjoyed Bandele's madcap tale - his character sketches were hilarious and full of empathy. His sentences meandered a little sometimes, and the ending seemed a little rushed and anti-climatic - but I suppose the Burma Boy is a story of a forgotten history: the role that West African and specifically Nigerian troops played in winning World War Two, in particular fighting the Japanese in Asia.

His sentences meandered a little sometimes, and the ending seemed a little rushed and anti-climatic - but I suppose the same analysis could be made of the nature of war itself. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

Nigeria: 'Burma Boy' by Biyi Bandele

Plotwise like a mix of Good Soldier Svejk and Inglourious Basterds as a troop of Nigerian colonial soldiers are sent into the jungles of Burma to fight the Japanese on their own turf, teach them to fear the jungle in the name of King George. There's good stuff here, but the tone never quite sits right with me; the mix of horror and dry irony not quite jelling, and a feeling that it could have benefitted from being longer. Mar 12, Anna rated it liked it Shelves: reviewed-for-watermark. Bandele, who lives in London, takes an ancient theme—the absurdity and suffering of war, old hat practically since the Iliad—and adds to it the only way any writer can, with a sharp and specific snapshot of an individual unwittingly taking part in the universal.

In graceful, dispassionate prose, Bandele chronicles pride and bravery against daunting odds: disease, homesickness, rough terrain not just jungle, mountainous jungle! Jun 23, Wiley rated it liked it. It does not convey much about the actual events of the War in that theater, focusing instead on the soldiers who come across as a bit "simple" in their cultural beliefs, fables, sayings, innocence you might say.

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The central character, from time to time, is the young 13 year old boy who struggles to become a soldier to go to war for the adventure of i A short fictional story set in WWII Burma, is somewhat interesting in its depiction of African Nigerian mostly soldiers fighting for the British. The central character, from time to time, is the young 13 year old boy who struggles to become a soldier to go to war for the adventure of it.

With only occasional exceptions, however, the author does not develop the various characters sufficiently to differentiate one from another and fails to make the reader really 'care' about them. The author does create a good "feel" for the nature of jungle warfare, and of course the whole "war is hell" theme. It's just an 'okay' book in my rating scheme, but I upped it to Three Stars partly because it was short and I didn't waste a huge amount of time to finish it, it had a few instances of humor and some combat action sequences with impact, and some colorful descriptions Jungle flora and fauna, but I would not recommend it to anyone else to read unless they already had a fairly intense interest in, and knowledge of, the combat operations of the British Army in Burma in WWII, and want a bit of "color' with regard to the little known role of the Nigerian troops in that effort.

Also, there are a multitude of better books depicting the "horrors of war" for the grunt on the front lines. Jul 22, Sam Reaves rated it liked it. This novel casts light on a little-known aspect of the Second World War, the participation of a brigade of Nigerian soldiers in the Burma campaign against the Japanese. The author is the son of a veteran of the campaign, and the book is based on his father's account as well as on a number of sources credited in the Author's Note. Twitter Facebook. Kabura Zakama Randomised Daniel Drennan ElAwar Adoptee, rematriated.

Tolu Ogunlesi journalist, poet, photographer, fiction writer. The WordPress. Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. By continuing to use this website, you agree to their use. About the Author : Biyi Bandele is an award-winning novelist, playwright, and poet. Buy New View Book. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Search for all books with this author and title. Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. Burma Boy Biyi Bandele.

Published by Jonathan Cape, London New Trade Paperback Quantity Available: 1. Seller Rating:.

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