In a society where the narrow path to national peace and stability suddenly split into a seemingly dichotomized quest for two equally elusive desirables – reconciliation and healing on the one hand and justice on the other – Redemption Road becomes the story of Liberia and her diehard attempt to see the end of both roads.
This novel by Liberian writer Elma Shaw is a fictional rendition of true historical accounts of Liberians from various backgrounds as each character struggles with their own past, as well as the past of their beloved country regardless of their level of involvement in the 14-year Liberian civil war.
The story is set in the last couple of years of Charles Taylor’s presidency, a period of uncertain normality that keeps Monrovia and its denizens on their marks, ready to run at the sound of the next gunshot. As people try to go about their daily activities under this cloud of uncertainty, their bleeding past is a sore that needs healing. But who’s responsible for it? What will it take to heal it and how long?
The author opens with the following poem:
1980: Redemption is here
One mother rejoices
One mother grieves
One mother dances
One mother weeps
And what, pray tell
Was Redemption Road paved with?
Aid from abroad
And still, more aid
So, 1990: Redemption comes again
This time almost everyone rejoices
Then everyone grieves
Almost everyone dances
Then everyone weeps
Over a decade of turmoil
And prayers for Peace
Bendu, the main character, often wakes up in a cold sweat from nightmares of being held captive in Commander Cobra’s camp in the town of Duluma. Then she bumps into him on the street one day after work. As the curtain closes on the war theatre, the city becomes a blend of real victims, notoriou
s war actors, politicians as well as others who could only care less because of their privilege not to have experienced the war. Shaw crafts a classic convergence among the characters, causing them to vehemently confront one another only to find out that they really needed to confront themselves. So who
This is a story that deserves a telling because it offers a way forward amidst all the ideological div
isions about what peace in Liberia should look, sound, smell and feel like. The politics of peace in post-war Liberia are still torn between the passionate pleas for the retributive justice of a war crimes court and the healing power of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In Shaw’s mind, however, perhaps if Liberia went back to where it all began, as the cover photo suggests, maybe then the nation could understand
better its destination.
There is tantalizing suspense at the turn of every chapter and the reader is led deep into the minds of the main characters, Bendu and Commander Cobra. What is missing in this novel is an equally deep insight into the personal story of Agnes, Bendu’s closest friend.
Throughout the story, Agnes plays a supporting role to the main character and is extremely inten
se at what she does, though she is only featured here and there. Not to take the spotlight off Bendu, the author equally portrays Anges in her own right as equally preponderant in the story just as Bendu, leaving the reader only thirsty to imbibe from the soul of such a dynamic character. To this end, the novel could find its own
redemption by way of transformation into a movie script. Possibly then, could Agnes’ story be more adequately explored. As retributive as Bendu is portrayed, representing the argument of a
war crimes court, Agnes represents the more soul-searching,
healing characteristic of the TRC and therefore deserves equal prominence. Yes, the author also has a background in film. So why not?