Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah

Summary:   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.  (Summary from Amazon.com and image from macmillan.com)

My Review:  I read this book rather unwillingly--this is not my typical book of choice.  I was assigned this topic by the Text Set Project I was a part of and had no idea just how much I was to learn.  This book was part of a collection of texts on the issue of child soldiers--articles, a graphic novel, videos, etc.  I believe this text gave the most vivid and clear depiction of what these children go through, but even with this firsthand account you miss some details because the boys were kept high on drugs like cocaine that blurred their thinking and memory.  Additionally, this is a boy's perspective.  A girl's perspective and experience would be different and one that would be necessary to have a complete understanding of what's currently happening.

Beah is a beautiful writer--and an incredible survivor.  The majority of the book is not of the boys fighting.  Beah attributes this to his being so high that he doesn't remember everything.  These haunting images come back to him when he least expects it and torments his mind without his knowing they're coming.  His healing process and his avoidance of the war are what make up the majority of the memoir.  It does put a clear face and family to this horrific situation in war torn countries.  To say using children as soldiers is evil is an understatement.  The more you know and learn, the more sickening the story becomes.  Read at your own risk.

For the sensitive reader:  I do not recommend this to anyone younger than 17 or 18.  The themes and overall story is heart-breaking.  Violence and war is the premise--reading accordingly.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Sum it up:  One boy's memories of living as a child soldier through the warfare in Sierra Leone.

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