TBR Challenge: A Long Way Gone:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (2007)

A Long Way Gone was possibly the hardest book I have ever read — emotionally speaking that is.  I am fearful that I will not convey the beauty and the brutality of this book with this review.  I will try so that Ishmael’s story can reach others- because it is a story in need of hearing.  

From the front/back flap:

This is how wars are fought now:  by children, traumatized, hopped-up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s.  Children have become the soldiers of choice.  In the more than fifty violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers.  Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. 

What does war look 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 it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael 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.

This is an extraordinary and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

This book floored me.  I was amazed at this boys story.  By the time I had finished this book, so many different feelings were brought up from within me.  I was horrified what war had done to the country of Sierra Leone.  You expect that war will be atrocious.  You can even allow that one side may be malicious.  However, both sides of this war acted with such inhumanity and brutality that I can barely recognize them as human at all. 

I was shocked at how normal people reacted to the war.  It was horrible what Ishmael and his friends were subjected to by just regular people who were also fleeing the war.  This was probably one of the most saddening aspects of the book.  Normal men were willing to kill children because they feared these boys; this makes me sad and frightened for our world. 

I loved his telling of his first trip to the United States, specifically to New York City.  He describes the New York that he expected,

My conception of New York City came from rap music.  I envisioned it as a place where people shot each other on the street and got away with it; no one walked on the streets, rather people drove in their sports cars looking for nightclubs and for violence.”

He was shocked with the truths of New York City.  It was the first time that he’d seen snow or experienced winter with its extreme cold and shorten daylight hours.  He says upon his arrival,

“I knew the word ‘winter’ from Shakespeare’s texts and I thought I should look up its meaning again…I felt my skin tighten, I couldn’t feel my face, and it seemed my ears had fallen off; my fingers hurt, and my teeth chattered…I had never in my life felt this cold.  How can anyone survive in this country” 

I would recommend everyone read this book simply because everyone should know that atrocities like this happen in our world.  It is this knowledge that can help us prevent them in the future.  

There are those who dispute Beah’s account.  I have no proof either way on the validity of Beah’s account.  I felt that I should inform readers of the controversy surrounding this book.   

 You can see the other TBR Day participants here.




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