Saturday, June 4, 2011
Review: "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah
From Goodreads: My new friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life. "Why did you leave Sierra Leone?" "Because there is a war." "You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?" "Yes, all the time." "Cool." I smile a little. "You should tell us about it sometime." "Yes, sometime."
This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.
What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.
In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.
This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.
My Thoughts: Last fall, I took an Anthropology class and one of the assignments was to watch a documentary about children in Uganda and how the lengths they had to go to avoid being kidnapped and forced to be soldiers. It completely broke my heart to watch that film and I think that is what led me to want to read this book. Ishmael Beah was just a young boy who loved rap music when war came to his village and tore his world apart. In this book, he discusses what happened after his entire family was killed, howe he was forced to live on his own in the forest and his time as a soldier in Sierra Leone. It was so mind-boggling to think that the soldiers in charge basically kept a bunch of young kids drugged up on pot and cocaine in order to keep them as willing participants in the war they were fighting. A lot of what is described in this book is told after Ishmael has left the army (at age sixteen) and while he is living in a rehabilitation center which surprised me because I expected a lot more detail about his time in the army. All in all, this is a good look at how someone can overcome the bad things in their life and go on to be successful and a functional human being. 4 stars.