Tuesday, March 17, 2009

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

Also reviewed by Kim and Mindy

Summary: This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone's civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare. Beah's harrowing journey transforms him overnight from a child enthralled by American hip-hop music and dance to an internal refugee bereft of family, wandering from village to village in a country grown deeply divided by the indiscriminate atrocities of unruly, sociopathic rebel and army forces. Beah then finds himself in the army—in a drug-filled life of casual mass slaughter that lasts until he is 15, when he's brought to a rehabilitation center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs. The process marks out Beah as a gifted spokesman for the center's work after his "repatriation" to civilian life in the capital, where he lives with his family and a distant uncle. When the war finally engulfs the capital, it sends 17-year-old Beah fleeing again, this time to the U.S., where he now lives. (Beah graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.) Told in clear, accessible language by a young writer with a gifted literary voice, this memoir seems destined to become a classic firsthand account of war and the ongoing plight of child soldiers in conflicts worldwide.

My Review: This was definitely a difficult book to read, as the subject matter was very emotional. Boys being drugged and dehumanized in order to become soldiers is without a doubt a sick and wrong practice. I can't imagine being in Ishmael's position, alone at the age of twelve, traveling by foot in an attempt to stay alive. I am astonished by this young boy's courage.

I must say that there are a few things that bothered me about this story, besides the horrific subject matter. First, the time line of this story seems rather convenient, if you will, in an unbelievable way. However, given that these are the memories of a twelve year old boy I can certainly understand how this is how he remembers things happening even if these events didn't happen so closely together. Also the author rarely speaks of his emotions during the story, nor does he tell how he reconciles with his own actions. Maybe this is because he is not far enough into the healing process to dive that deep or maybe it is just something he has chosen not to put down on paper. Either way, I must admit that as a reader I felt that this left the story feeling incomplete for me.

Overall I am glad that I have the knowledge of what is happening in Africa and believe that this would be a good book for others to read to would inform them of the horrific acts that are taking place in that part of the world. I find it rather ironic that Ishmael and his friends were so familiar with U.S. rap songs and artists, as well as other American trends, yet we don't have the slightest clue what is happening to people over there. I think this is probably a true statement for many parts of the world. We should do more to keep ourselves informed, as knowledge is power.

My Rating: 4 Stars, glad I read it and will recommend it to others

Sum this book up in one phrase: Unforgettable

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