Beasts of No Nation was written by Uzodinma Iweala as part of his undergraduate thesis at Harvard University. His story of Agu, a young African boy forced to become a soldier, was met with great praise and acclaim when officially published in 2005. Iweala was inspired to write this piece at only 14 years old after reading an article in the Washington Post that detailed the brutality of war and merciless use of child soldiers. Although far removed from the lives he was reading about, Iweala promptly started to write in the perspective of these people to better understand their situation.
Uzodinma Iweala’s interest in this subject was sparked even further in college when he attended a speaker series showcasing conflicts in Africa. There, he encountered a former Ugandan child soldier who endured the loss of her parents and war as a constant backdrop in her adolescence. He was then brought back to his story that he wrote as a teenager and decided to expand it into a larger piece. After his junior year of university, he visited Nigeria which allowed him to research and develop the atmosphere of his novel. While the story is set in an unnamed country, Nigeria served as the main inspiration for the overall landscape of Agu’s journey.
Beasts of No Nation is written in the first person from the point-of-view of Agu. Though simplistic plot-wise, this story deals with Agu’s painfully harrowing and emotionally complex experiences in a war-torn environment. Ali Smith of The Guardian calls it an “apocalyptic” setting as “controlled images of pointless sacrifice, starved people and spoiled meat recur throughout, and images of soldiers shift from pride to horrific sexual degradation.” Beasts garnered much praise as Iweala won the 2005 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award for fiction, the 2006 Young Lions Fiction Award, and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
In 2015, the novel was adapted into a film of the same name, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and starring Idris Elba and Abraham Attah.