Prize fighter, a novel by Future D. Fidel
Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9780733639050
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. The first two 'Acts' of this book include the most shocking things I have read for a while. Not that the writing is graphic or extreme, the author avoids giving us details, just as his protagonist wants to avoid the memories, but the story of the depravity to which human beings can descend is truly disturbing. Fidel writes about the forced conscription of child soldiers by Congolese rebels on the rampage, forcing them to rape, hatchet and kill even family and friends. Isa is only in grade 4 when he sees his parents and his sister killed; he and his elder brother Moise become weapons for the rebels, their mission is to kill everyone under the age of eight and over fifteen, and they have to recruit others into the same brutality. In a moment of desperation Moise urges Isa to run, and Isa does, not knowing whether the gunshots he hears have taken his brother's life.
Travelling alone across country Isa ends up yet another child beggar on the streets of Nairobi. But a good deed sees him rescued by a kindly old woman, who helps him register with the United Nations as a refugee.
Eventually Isa is accepted for settlement in Australia, but that is not the end of his loneliness and torment. The boxing skills he learnt from his brother, see him gain notoriety in the boxing ring, but he has to learn how to restrain the violence that remains within him, violence that continues to threaten his relationships with others.
Whilst Fidel's novel is not autobiographical it is obviously based on first-hand knowledge of the horrors of the Congolese civil war. In an ABC podcast, available online, he tells of how he was orphaned as a child and escaped as a stowaway to Tanzania, then after 8 years in a camp, he was accepted as a refugee to Australia. In Australia he has become active in the arts, supporting others from refugee backgrounds. Prize fighter started as a stage play and now is presented as a novel.
Prize fighter rings with authenticity and is a gripping tale of one child's survival through the worst horrors, and his struggle as an adult to break free from memories and make a new life. We can only hope that other refugees are able to achieve the same thing.