- Author: Ishmael Beah
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Macmillan
- Release Date: June 19, 2013
- Language: English
This is how wars are fought now by children, hopped up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s. In the more than 50 violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. 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, Beah, now 26 years old, tells a riveting story in his own words: how, at the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By 13, 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.
A Long WayGone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is by Ishmael Beah. I was asked to read this book by a Mother whose child was required to read it over the summer. She wanted my view of the book. The book deals with child soldiers in Sierre Leone in the 80’s and 90’s. I found this book hard to deal with. The graphics of the rebel soldiers is too graphic. I question having this book or similar ones read over the summer by students. I feel it should be read in class with explanations for the students handy. The topic is definitely one that should be read and talked about by students today. Reading it alone with no chance to talk about it is a disservice to the students.
Ishmael tells his story is a very straightforward way and in that manner shows his innocence and how it is taken from him. In his search for his family, he shows his innocence in comparison to what is going on around him. Even as he gives up on finding his family. His need and hope to survive is at the base of his actions.
Imagine your entire world changing one day while you are going about an innocent childhood day. That is what happened to Ishmael Beah. One day he was working on a rap group with his friends. The next he was struggling to survive.
The story is one that everyone should hear.
Unfortunately, Ishmael’s story is not unique. What is unique is his gift to share that experience with the rest of the world. He is clearly a highly intelligent and communicative young man. This was realized long before the book was released when he was chosen to represent his country at the United Nations. That experience gave him a way to get out of his country. Yet, how many children were left behind?
Once you read this book it will become a part of you. It is due to the topic, children as young a six picking up a gun to defend their country is not something that will leave your mind. Yet, it is also due to Ishmael Beah’s gift with words.
“A Long Way Gone” is actually the second book by Ishmael Beah that I have had the pleasure of reading. I initially fell upon his book “Radiance of Tomorrow” at the beginning of my book journey, and it definitely helped to set the tone in regards to my book choices.
Like many things in the news, boy soldiers was something I heard and read about, but it was such an abstract concept to me. It didn’t sound real, it didn’t sound possible. Furthermore, I lacked the necessary background knowledge on the context of these conflicts that were creating these boy soldiers.
It is a privilege to have been able to sit back and just hear about children being trained to be soldiers by not only rebel groups but the governing bodies of countries. It is a privilege to have been almost totally unaware and uneducated on the plight of people in countries like Sierra Leone. It is a privilege that I try to be aware of and recognize, and books like “A Long Way Gone” and “Radiance of Tomorrow” are instrumental in checking my privilege.
Through “A Long Way Gone”, Ishmael Beah takes boy soldiers out of the abstract and into the realm of reality, giving the term “boy solider” the human faces that have been wiped by such an umbrella term.
There was a bit of controversy regarding this book, primarily because people were skeptical to the actuality of this story. “A Long Way Gone” is intended to be a memoir of Ishmael Beah’s own journey as a child soldier, and there were supposedly conflicts in the timeline. However, regardless of whether or not this story was the true experience of Ishmael Beah, it cannot be denied that he shares with the world a story that must be exposed and shared. He also raises many ethical questions in regards to child soldiers and how they are dehumanized.
Ishmael takes you through the full scope of what being a child soldier entails, including the aftermath. More specifically the rehabilitation that is required and the re-entry into mainstream society.
A lot like “The Memory of Lost Skin”, this book challenged my perceptions of criminality and rehabilitation. With child soldiers, society condemns them and takes away their status as children because of the atrocities they are brainwashed to commit. Nevertheless, at the end of the day these children are STILL children, and if we are to ensure that they do not continue on a violent life course, we need to believe they can be rehabilitated and take the necessary measures to do so. The human brain is most plastic at younger ages, so making efforts to rehabilitate children will help to mitigate the creation of a whole generation of adults that perpetuate violence due to the residual effects of these conflicts.
This is definitely not an easy read, particularly when you realize these are real events that have occurred to thousands of boys in Sierra Leone and other countries. However, if you want to understand what it means to be a boy solider, this would be a good place to start. A good read to accompany “A Long Way Gone” is “What is the What” by Dave Eggers. Compliments well the story of “A Long Way Gone”, and gives a differing perspective, i.e. what happens if you are “fortunate” enough to escape being taken as a child solider. Keep in mind “What is the What” covers an entirely different topic (The Lost Boys of Sudan), but it is essential in helping one realize that all these things are connected and not just isolated events.