This project offers an analysis of the child soldier story genre of literary writing in the context of Africanist discourse in the U.S. It defines the genre as encompassing fictional and non-fiction narratives that depict child soldier protagonists in Africa as written by African authors. It examines nine of the most popular and critically-acclaimed works through their predominant themes and concludes that the genre ultimately makes a harmful contribution to how the African continent is popularly understood in the U.S.
The first chapter defines the genre as it has been constructed by the American publishing industry. It places child soldier stories within a larger marketing category known as misery literature and explains how they are taken to inappropriately represent everyday life in Africa.
The second chapter examines their representations of childhood on the continent. They convey the idea that it is not possible for children to experience what readers are likely to understand as a normative childhood and that recovery is only possible when these characters relocate in the West. China Keitetsi’s 2005 memoir Child Soldier is the main focus for this analysis.
The third chapter concerns how they address organized violence in Africa and causes for child soldiering. While some reject the view that ‘tribalism’ is to blame for recurring conflicts, all appear to endorse the Afro-pessimistic conclusion that terrible conditions in Africa are not likely to improve. Ahmadou Kourouma’s 2007 novel Allah is Not Obliged is the main focus for this analysis.
The fourth chapter considers whether a more critical view of the humanitarian industry that is exhibited in many child soldier stories can be considered a redeeming feature of the genre. It also concentrates on efforts by former child soldiers to change their public identities through their embrace of humanitarian advocacy. Emmanuel Dongala’s 2005 novel Johnny Mad Dog is the main focus for this analysis.