With so many dark things happening in the world right now, especially in regards to war, I wanted to share a book review that highlights the experience of children in war zones. It’s hard enough to hear about acts of war that cause human suffering, and it’s worse still to think about the kids that are affected in so many ways.
In the short story “Naema—Whereabouts Unknown,” Mohammed Dib paints a picture of a man and his children in the midst of the Algerian War for Independence. The story is in a diary format that allows the reader to experience first-hand what the narrator is feeling.
The narrator is a good man who is surviving the war while taking care of his children, and also not knowing the whereabouts of his wife. His seven-year-old boy, Rahim, asks him questions that break his heart: “You mustn’t dawdle, Daddy, must you, when you throw a grenade?” (16). As the narrator struggles with how the war is affecting himself and his children, Dib highlights what a horrible position the child is in. The boy has apparently lived through three years of war already, and he has eerily childlike solutions: “Kill the lot. Keep throwing bombs” (16). These chilling words are meant to shock those that read them. The boy’s anger is a representation of the anger of all the Arabs that were resisting the French in the occupation. He encompasses the violence and hate that Dib feared would consume the next generation of Palestinians.
The war and death that surrounds the children in this story is not unique to this family alone. Dib tells a story that is familiar to anyone who has raised a family in a combat zone during wartime. As the Arab nationalists fight against the French colonialists, the narrator begins to reveal his own concerns not only for his country’s future, but his children’s future as well. He laments the fact that a high price has been paid already by the people of his country. He wonders, “How will those who survive the war adapt themselves to life? … How will they manage to give it a human face again?” (19).
These concerns affect not only the people of the narrator’s generation, but even more so the generation that was born into the war. For the children who grew up hearing grenades and bombs going off in the streets, who saw women and other children gunned down with machine guns, they won’t even know what peacetime is like. Dib presents a difficult problem when he conspicuously places children in this piece—the children represent the future of Algeria. They are children without a home and without the knowledge of peace.
This story took place in the 1950s during the French occupation of Algeria, but sadly, there are many children around the world today who are still affected by war, terrorism, occupations, and violence. It’s not a very uplifting read, but it’s interesting to think about the world from the viewpoint of a kid in a war zone and wonder, like Dib, “How will those who survive the war adapt themselves to life? How will they manage to give it a human face?”