Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier - Ishmael Beah

Also reviewed by Heather and Kim

Summary: In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Ishamel Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a powerfully gripping story: 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. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal.

My review: My squad was my family, my gun was my provider and protector, and my rule was to kill or be killed. The extend of my thoughts didn’t go much beyond that. We had been fighting for over two years, and killing had become a daily activity. I felt no pity for anyone. My childhood had gone by without my knowing, and it seems as if my heart had frozen.”
This statement is significant to me because it encompasses all that Ismael had to battle through. He had become so completely desensitized to the violence around him--the violence he committed that he felt nothing inside.
One of the things that really hit home for me was that Ishmael is my age. When he was 12, so was I. When he was running around the forest, fighting for his life and taking the lives of other, I was worried about boys and how to get the next New Kids cassette. It really put a lot of things in perspective and made me feel astoundingly blessed to live in a country that, despite it’s tanking economy, guarantees us a great deal more freedom than many others around the world.
As Ishmael is able to escape the army and recover from a near constant state of drug addiction and murder, he slowly feels bits and pieces of himself coming back. It gave me hope, watching him heal, that these atrocities did not break him completely and that he would have a chance at a happy fulfilling life.
I don't know what more I can say about this book that my fellow reviewers haven't already covered. This book was absolutely heartrending and emotionally exhausting--but totally worth my time. So much happens in our world that we don't hear about, either because it isn't "relevant" enough to be covered in the media or because we don't pay attention. Often, we turn a blind eye because with knowledge comes responsibility and we don't really know what difference we could make. If it does make it to the media, we profess our outrage, but eventually we forget, we move on, we go back to our lives and people continue to die. I feel that this book needs to be read and that we have an obligation to read about inhuman atrocities so that we can learn from past mistakes and bring them media attention. Even if a book is hard to read, I'll often push through because I think that, in some way, by reading their words I can give a voice--a small speck of validation--to those who have suffered. If we read it--their story can be heard. If we acknowledge it--they won't be forgotten.
My rating: 4 stars. Very compelling but be aware of the highly graphic depictions of violence to men, women, and children.
Sum this book up in one phrase: Hard to read, but undeniably worth it.

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