Tamara began with a clip from the film Skin (2008), in which a black child is born to two white Afrikaner parents in apartheid-era South Africa. The girl, Sandra, is brought into a courtroom that will decide her legal ethnicity: a courtroom in which the child’s body, not her words, provide the only acceptable form of testimony. Throughout her paper, Tamara explored parallel tensions between body and speech in a number of recent child soldier novels. For example, Chris Abani’s novel Song for Night, published in 2007, is narrated by a mute child soldier in 1960s Nigeria who develops his own form of home sign. This method of communication relies on the truth in, or the truth of, the child’s body—an exteriorisation of interiority. In effect, Tamara proposed, the child’s body provides a way of talking about suffering and physical pain that is resistant to or even defiant of verbal witness, but is at the same time potentially problematic. Moreover, the crisis of credibility around the child soldier novel (Tamara referenced the controversy over Ishmael Beah’s 2007 A Long Way Gone), must provoke a broader reassessment of the nature of testimony, as opposed to the need to challenge false testimony.
Tamara will present further research at the Child and the Book conference at Cambridge later this month—registration and further information now available here.