Review of A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah ****
Reading “A Long Way Gone” reminded me a lot of the book “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, only the journey here is true and so too the horrors along the way.
Ishnael Beah was a young teenager whose ambition in life was to write and sing rap music. His ambitions were put on hold when he and his friends were caught up in the ongoing rebel war in Sierra Leone. Their first contact with the war is when they come across refugees fleeing the violence. They see the terror in their eyes but have no idea what caused such fear. They soon find out first hand. They are separated from their families and flee into the jungle. From there they begin a perilous odyssey where they witness unspeakable brutality and violence. Eventually Ishmael and those with him are recruited and trained as boy soldiers. They are given weapons and minimal training. They are also given drugs. Fueled by a combination of fear, starvation, and drugs the boys are easily manipulated by their adult commanders. Soon they are engulfed in a wave of violence where human life has no value.
Ishmael describes the killings, including those that he participated in, with clear, descriptive passages. He doesn’t reflect on the morality behind the killings. He simply states them as fact. Reflection comes later when he is haunted by nightmares and migraines.
Things turn around for Ishmael when he is shot in the foot and forced to spend time in a hospital. Here he meets a nurse and others who risk their own lives to rehabilitate Ishmael and others like him. At the end of his journey Ishmael is given the opportunity to travel to the U.S. to speak at the United Nations. He meets a woman who eventually becomes his guardian. His transformation from brutal killer to successful author is truly amazing and so too is this story. Add this one to your list.