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Johnny Mad Dog [Hardcover]

El M Dongala
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 21 2005
Life During Wartime, As Seen Through the Eyes of Two Congolese Teenagers

Set amid the chaos of West Africa's civil wars, Emmanuel Dongala's striking new novel tells the story of two teenagers growing up while rival ethnic groups fight for control of their country.

At age sixteen, Johnny is a member of the Death Dealers, a rebel faction bent on seizing power. Even as he is drawn into the rebels' program of terror, Johnny Mad Dog, as he calls himself, retains his youthful exuberance-searching for girls, good times, and adventure. Sixteen-year-old Laokolé, for her part, dreams of finishing high school and becoming an engineer, but as rogue militias prepare to sack the city, she is forced to leave home with her mother and brother-and then finds herself alone and running from the likes of Johnny.

Acclaimed in France, Johnny Mad Dog is a coming-of-age story like no other; Dongala's masterful use of dual narrators makes the novel an unusually vivid and affecting tale of the struggle to survive-and to retain one's humanity-in terrifying times.

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From Publishers Weekly

Two teenagers are caught up in the melee as rival ethnic factions turn their Congolese city into a bloody battleground in this harrowing novel by Dongala (Little Boys Come from the Stars, etc.). Laokolé, a bright girl of 16 who dreams of one day becoming an engineer, flees home ahead of the marauding militias. With her younger brother and legless mother (whom she pushes in a wheelbarrow), she struggles not only to stay alive but to sustain her hopes for the future. Alternate chapters give readers the boastful voice of 15-year-old Johnny Mad Dog, a member of the Death Dealers militia, as he patrols the city with his Uzi, looting, raping and killing, eager to prove himself a man. Dongala, a native of the Congo Republic (formerly French Congo), offers an unflinching look at the greed and ignorance that drives fighters like Mad Dog, as well as the fear, desperation and anger of those trapped in the cross fire. Despite occasional wooden dialogue and the rather stagey showdown between the two narrators, Dongala frames some powerful questions: namely, how humans can be so cruel, and conversely, how do they maintain their humanity in the face of unremitting ugliness? As Mad Dog himself half-marvels, half-laments, "even if we looted them a thousand times, they would always manage to hang onto something." (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This novel of civil war in West Africahas two teen narrators, and while both are more eloquent and grown-up in their thinking than seems possible, that barely detracts from the story's devastating power. The first storyteller is the eponymous Johnny, a child soldier serving in an irregular militia whose side has just won power. Johnny fancies himself an intellectual, but he constantly muddles history, and he struggles endlessly to think of an appropriately ruthless nickname for himself. The second narrator, Laokole, tells the same tale of murder, rape, and devastation that Johnny does but from a different perspective: that of a 16-year-old girl who just wants to save her younger brother and legless mother from the violence. A good student who wants to attend university, Laokole's journey of survival is particularly gut-wrenching because it alternates with Johnny's pathetic, adolescent evilness. At the beginning, Laokole wants to be an engineer; by the end, she wishes to be an astronaut. It's a magnificent symbol for Laokole's coming-of-age; her world, it seems, cannot be rebuilt--only escaped. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, masterful... but harsh July 9 2009
Format:Paperback
If you've read Ishmael Beah's _A Long Way Gone_ and enjoyed it, you'll love this book even more. This fiction novel about a child soldier is much better written, more detailed and more intense; thus it brings out the brutal horror of war on children even more poignantly. On par with Iweala's _Beasts of No Nation_. Note, it's also a very powerful film. Very difficult subject material, however - harsh.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bitter struggle May 7 2005
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book graphically portrays the horrific ordeal of innocents caught in the crossfire of rebel factions in civil war-torn West Africa. Hordes of people leave their homes and are relentlessly pursued by the rebels, in this case a group called Mata Mata, the cause narrated by 16-year old Johnny Mad Dog. While marching his "men" from place to place and killing so-called traitors indiscriminately, the young men loot and rape with impunity, proud of their manly prowess and totally oblivious to those they destroy.

With youthful hubris, Johnny Mad Dog considers himself an intellectual, but his arrogance far exceeds his native intelligence, as brutal a character as any seasoned veteran. He rationalizes his actions, spouting policy in rejecting "the previous government and its leader, enemies of the people and democracy, a genocidal regime... I think that's what we'd been told to say."

In sharp contrast, the 16-year old Laokole leaves her shabby hut with her brother and legless mother in a wheelbarrow, the children taking turns pushing. Along the way, the brother, Fofo is separated from his sister and mother. The mother's legs are a casualty of the last rebel rampage, when her husband was shot. Laokole thinks about the futility of their plight, danger at every turn, even "why a woman should limit the number of her own children: because the fewer children you had, the more easily you could flee in times of war and looting." Nowhere is safe in this chaotic world, turned upside-down by the rebels, soldiers, bandits, all interchangeable, young and old pursued, "for no one is too old to flee death". Everyone carries their most prized possessions, for Laokole and Fofo it is their mother.

By contrasting the lives of the two teenagers, Johnny Mad Dog and Laokole, the author paints a stunning picture of depravity vs. courage. Laokole is the voice of humanity, while Johnny Mad Dog is corrupted by power, depraved by senseless murders, excusing his own brutality: "I know, I know, my kind heart is going to get me in serious trouble." In alternating chapters, the girl and the young man maneuver through the unremitting violence that is total chaos. The carnage is everywhere, death stalking the streets with each fetish-wearing youth with a rifle in his hands.

The refugees look for their story to be told on the television, but nothing is mentioned on American TV. The European stations have some coverage, "images I've seen a thousand times on programs about Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Central African Republic and eastern Zaire". Africa is seen on the screen as a vast refugee camp, "the ragged, wandering hordes." This painful, but important novel gives voice to the massacre of innocents, over 10, 000 deaths, half a million displaced persons and refugees, a humanitarian catastrophe. "How can you have hope in a country when the road to power is littered with corpses?" The haunting voice of this young woman tells the story of millions, abandoned to their fate. When will the world respond to this genocidal nightmare? Luan Gaines/2005.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and educating. Nov. 7 2005
By Galwayk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book really brought home some of what it must feel like to live unprotected in a war ravaged country, a country where citzens are just meat. I felt completely compelled and scared for our heroine, a family strong child trapped within her own country. I was repelled by the brilliantly written villian - a boy who is the worst kind of stupid, a boy who thinks he is a smart man.

Be warned - it is brutal.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will break your heart Aug. 14 2005
By Gary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dongala's fictionalized account of an African civil war will make the suffering of the innocent deeply personal. He creates affection and concern for his characters, and then inflicts the pains of war on those characters... and on the reader as well.

The story is told by two of his characters, the teenage girl who is trying to protect her loved ones and the slightly-older teenage boy who is one of the fighters. In alternating chapters, the events of the war are related by these two. As their paths cross several times during the events, two versions are presented for a number of incidents. The boy's arrogant amoral role borders on criminal insanity, but Dongala makes him believable.

Dongala has created a "page-turner" here. Johnny Mad Dog is compelling and deeply disturbing.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intense Fear Made Palatable Feb. 14 2007
By William T. Wildman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book was neither "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" nor was it "Mortals" but it did manage to capture the ease with which people drift into mindless violence. The author appeared to believe that lack of education is a pre-requisite for senseless mayhem, apparently distinguishing senseless mayhem from sensible mayhem. Being such, it trotted out the usual examples of severed limbs, murderous over-reactions and bodies set alight. As in most cases, and possibly actual reality, whites and Europeans were generally exempted from the worst, although they were no doubt frightened out of their wits. For the reader its a footrace between fear and disgust but undoutedly these things happed and needless to say they must be chronicled in some fashion.

Like CSI, there was so much blood and guts that one became innured to it early on. it became a little predicatble, Africans gone wild killing each other while whites helicopter in for a photo shoot. As such it lacked much of the simmering outrage against Western Aid of "Capetown to Cairo". Are we to belive that all Amero-Europeans are superficial gawkers in swell transport while all Africans are helpless victims of both their own violence and the West's desire for entertainment?

That being said, the book did keep one's attention is sort of a movie-like way and even though the various outcomes were predictable, one could not wait for his worst fears regarding the main charaters to be realizied, but in a palatable form. Maybe literature is generally devolving into a screenplay; this book seemed to be
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid portrayal of life and activities of Africa's child soldiers. Feb. 23 2007
By Augustine Invictus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I hopefully decided to give a better review of this novel by Emmanuel Dongala.
By re-reading the novel, I was amazed at how the life and activities of Africa's child soldiers (whether it be in Sierra Leone,Sudan,the Congo,Uganda or as this novel hints at Anywhere Africa), are accurately and terribly but also pitifully depicted. The brain of Johnny Mad Dog,a teenage rebel soldier saturated with violence and murder contrasted with the brain of Laokole,a teenage girl who witnessed and tried to avoid that violence. To her this absurdity of war did not make sense and sometimes she couldn't believe it was really happening. Rebel militias invade villages,abduct children as young as 6 or 7, force them to kill their family members under pain of torture or death,then train them to become soldiers and finally drug them,threaten them and force them to kill. Sometimes it is vice versa where government armies also train children as soldiers to kill the rebels. The consciouseness of the world now is aroused hopefully in knowing what is going on in these parts of the world with child soldiers dubbed as Invisible Children. The French made film "Johnny Mad Dog" is also a hit to many.It is remarkable in that many of the actors needed little rehearsals because they were actually former child soldiers! Unfortunately,no DVD of this movie is available in Region 1 which I believe includes the U.S.A. However you can view some of it in YouTube under Invisible Children. It is hoped that these "invisible children" would now become visible. Johnny Mad Dog is a fast-paced violent novel but authentic in its form,has happened or still happening.
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