Saah Millimono’s Award-winning Novel Launches Tomorrow

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On Friday 24th April 2015, Kwani Trust will launch Liberian author Saah Millimono’s Boy Interrupted at The Market Place in Monrovia. Described by Helon Habila as ‘a searing, heartbreaking love story set in the civil war years in Liberia’, this anticipated debut novel was the 1st Runner-up in the 2013 Kwani? Manuscript Project.

With schools and universities having only recently resumed classes following the Ebola crisis, this event bringing together students, writers and the broader community to celebrate the publication of this novel by a young Liberian writer very much represents a moving forward, even as Boy, Interrupted offers a brave and affecting engagement with Liberia’s past.

Millimono’s Boy Interrupted is the story of Tarnue, a young boy from ‘Monrovia-poor’, whose day-to-day concerns of school, parental pressures and the rewards of ice-cream and new sneakers are irrevocably interrupted by civil war.

Helon Habila, winner of the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize and author of Measuring Time, describes the novel as a love story:

‘Told in a direct, idiomatic style, the story takes us from the narrator’s difficult childhood years in Monrovia to a meeting with Kou, the beautiful girl who will change his life forever. Together they will witness their country’s descent into war and near cataclysmic destruction. Their love is tested by separation, loss, heartbreak, and emerges triumphant against all odds.’

While Olufemi Terry, winner of the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing, has praised Millimono’s careful handling of violence and his distinctive voice:

‘Saah Millimono’s Boy, Interrupted reads in parts like a reminiscence, and also like a news dispatch from the time of Liberia’s civil war. It is neither.  The writing is unaffected, the voice strong and fluent. A compelling debut novel that handles lurid subjects—violence, exploitation, displacement—with a keen sensitivity.’

The novel will be launched on Friday 24th April at 12.30p.m. at The Market Place, Carey & Nelson Streets, Monrovia hosted by Kwani Trust and the Liberia Association of Writers.  Saah Millimono will be in conversation with Hawa Jande Golakai, author of The Lazarus Effect and part of the Africa39 list.

Llord Aidoo, President of the Liberia Association of Writers, commented:

‘Boy Interrupted is continuing no less a highly valuable tradition in Liberian literature that began back in 1891 with Joseph J. Walters’ Guanya Pau.  It is a long tradition we are very proud of.  With a rich narrative tapestry and incisive clarity, Saah Millimono’s explorations are more than worthy of this tradition.  Saah weaves a complex story through the vision and innocence of a child’s perspective on battled and bloodied events in Liberia’s past, and in doing this provides future generations with an architecture of history.  When Saah’s entry won 2nd place in the Kwani? Manuscript Project, we at the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW) were simply blown away. LAW are very proud to be jointly hosting this launch with Kwani Trust and celebrating this important new voice in Liberian literature.’

Billy Kahora, Managing Editor of Kwani Trust, said:

‘Kwani Trust set up the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2012 to produce new novel titles across the continent. After launching, Kintu, a novel by a Ugandan writer in Kampala in 2014, Kwani Trust is now proud to launch its next title in the Kwani? Manuscript Project series, Boy Interrupted, by Saah Milimono in Monrovia, Liberia.  Saah’s novel, set in the civil war years of Liberia and told through the innocent eyes of a young boy called Tarnue, follows Kwani Trust’s tradition of producing works which address issues that force us out of our comfort zones.’

About the Kwani? Manuscript Project

The Kwani? Manuscript Project (http://manuscript.kwani.org/) was launched in April 2012 and called for the submission of unpublished novel manuscripts from African writers across the continent and in the diaspora. The prize received over 280 qualifying submissions from 19 African countries.  Boy Interrupted by Saah Millimono (originally submitted as One Day I Will Write About This War) was the 1st runner up.   

The winners were selected from a shortlist of seven by a high-profile panel of judges chaired by award-winning Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub and including former Deputy Editor of Granta magazine Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, leading scholar of African literature Professor Simon Gikandi, Chairman of Kenyatta University’s Literature Department Dr. Mbugua wa Mungai, editor of Zimbabwe’s Weaver Press Irene Staunton and internationally renowned Nigerian writer Helon Habila.

Boy, Interrupted is the second novel to publish in the Kwani? Manuscript Project series.  Winner of the prize Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu which was published by Kwani Trust in June 2014 to much critical acclaim, with Makumbi recently heralded by Aaron Bady at The New Enquiry as ‘one of the most fresh and important African writers’.

Kwani Trust plans to publish four novels coming out of the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2015, with Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West and Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay with Me following next.  Leading editor Ellah Wakatama Allfrey has been working closely with each of the writers to develop and fulfill the literary promise the prize identified in their writing.  The Trust will also be partnering with regional and global agents and publishing houses to secure high profile international co-publication opportunities for these novels.

The Kwani? Manuscript Project has been made possible with the support of Ford Foundation, Lambent Foundation, Commonwealth Writers and Stichting Doen.  The project was initiated by the Prince Claus Award to Kwani Trust in 2010.

About Boy, Interrupted

‘We were hardly prepared for the flames that would soon engulf the country, sending Liberian refugees spilling over the borders’

What happens when a young boy’s life is interrupted by war? Two young classmates, Tarnue, a boy from ‘Monrovia-poor’, and Kou, the cherished daughter of a big man in government, strike up an unlikely, yet instinctual friendship. It is 1989 in Liberia and when civil war comes, day-to-day concerns of school, parental pressure and the luxurious rewards of ice cream and new sneakers irrevocably disappear.

Liberian Saah Millimono’s debut is a moving account of a boy’s life in a time of crisis.  Tarnue is at times clear-eyed and wise beyond his years, at others bewildered by the impact of national upheaval on his already challenging existence as Charles Taylor’s forces enter Liberia.  Millimono’s is a brave, honest voice. With prose that is authentic and spare, this story of one boy caught up in cataclysmic events is a powerful indictment of the trauma, and the pity, of war.

The novel is published in paperback priced at Ksh 800/$10 and will be published as an ebook priced at Ksh 350/$4.  Both are available to order at:

http://kwani.org/publication/kwani-series/191/boy_interrupted.htm

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