Amani's River by David Hartness
In Amani’s River, an intense well-written historical novel by David Hartness,
we are taken inside the mind of Aderito, a 10-year old American who travels with his father and
mother to Mozambique. Aderito's father wants to help his family, caught in the brutal violence of the
Mozambique civil war, which raged from 1977-1992. Aderito becomes an unwilling child soldier in
this civil war.
A quiet studious child, Aderito is transformed into a murderer after his kidnapping by
the Renamo rebel forces, fighting against a repressive government forces. Both forces were accused
later of war crimes. Beaten, starved and drugged, Aderito thinks, “This felt as if it were the end.” But
it was not.
Memories of his former life fade. “Mixed with emotions, I felt the moral thing to do was to
spare his life... However, the thing expected of me was to show my manhood and kill him for his sins.
I couldn’t contemplate right from wrong, and so I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.”
The Renamo commander controls Aderito’s life. “All I knew was that my new father said it (killing) was the best thing to do.” Trying desperately to fit into his new dystopia, Aderito knows that any of his actions or words can cause his own death. He lives between rage and killing, and a feeling that he has lost his soul.
One of the book’s most poignant scenes occurs when Aderito, on a killing raid in a hospital, hears a man calling his name. “Who was this man who knew my name?...I knew him but couldn’t remember.” Aderito found he was staring into the eyes of his father.
I asked David about this scene. How could Aderito not remember his own father? “Child soldiers are taken from a very young age. They are essentially brainwashed, and in many regards become dependent on the very people who captured them, much like anyone who is kidnapped. This brainwashing forces them to forget. The Renamo….captured the children either by force, homelessness or by paying the family. I know that may be hard to understand, but Renamo could provide food, clothes and a roof….which help in the brainwashing process.”
David Hartness brings us into a world that most cannot imagine. He writes, “I lived in Mozambique for three years (in the Peace Corps), and therefore I met many people who participated in the civil war and it was through their stories that I created my fictional account about the war.... I relied heavily on the people who lived through some of these atrocities.”
Why are children made into soldiers? David says, “The reason is simple and shocking. They are young and can easily be manipulated, and they eat less, therefore cost less.” Today, more than 300,000 child soldiers are exploited in such groups as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida and radical Palestinian groups, such as Hamas. Schools and camps teach hatred and indoctrinate children with violent ideologies.
Some children are forced to kill, as we see in the unfolding narration in Amani’s River. Some are so indoctrinated with hate that they initiate violence on their own. Lest we think of this as fiction, on August 16 of this year, a child, some think 12 years old, attacked a Kurdish wedding party in Turkey, killing 27 and wounding 94. More than half of the victims themselves were children.
I asked David if the child soldiers he met had ever recovered from these horrors. “The former child soldiers I had met …
had not fully recovered, and probably never will. Their entire life had been altered. They were forced to do unthinkable things. Everything that
happened in the book happened to these children. I was either told this by them, recounting their experience, or reading accounts in old
newspapers. I am not sure you can ever fully recover. These people wore scars on the outside and inside.”
Adopting a child from Mozambique, David and his son now live in the US, giving Luke more opportunities than he could
have had in Mozambique.
David and I spoke about Mozambique's typical food. Mozambique is the 15th poorest country in the world. The
staple food for many Mozambicans is ncima, a thick porridge made from maize/corn flour and is similar to Southern grits.
Collard greens, peppers, tomatoes and onions are often grown for home use and I made a dish by sautéing all together.
Beans are also commonly used and are mentioned in Amani’s River. I added black beans and garlic for flavor to create a
dish Aderito would have eaten.