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

“The villages that we captured and turned into our bases as we went along and the forests that we slept in became my home. My squad was my family, my gun was my provider and protector and my rule was to kill or be killed.”-pg 122

 

I’m going to lie; this was both a hard and an easy book to read. It is the story of Ishmael Beah, a child who sets off with his brother and some friends to participate in a talent show and ends up getting caught up in Sierra Leone’s civil war. The subject matter made it hard to read. Beah and his friends spend half of the book running and hiding, almost getting caught, getting caught, getting separated from each other and dying of starvation. The civil war in Sierra Leone, Beah tells us, made it impossible to trust strangers and it made you suspicious of your own family and friends. You know from the title that Beah is eventually recruited into the fight, but you spend the first part of the book wondering who will recruit him. Will he end up branded and fighting for the RUF? The side that probably destroyed his village and killed his family. Or, will he end up fighting for the army out of starvation and a need to avenge all that he has lost. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but he does pick a side and he does fight spending years on a drug-fueled, military-organized killing spree. When the UN gets involved, his lieutenant gives him up to an NGO who are responsible for rehabilitating him and others, to see if it can be done. Can child soldiers be brought back from what they’ve seen? Can they learn to trust again and be reintegrated into society. Beah and some of his friends spend some time at a rehabilitation camp, but the war eventually catches up to them there, too.

 

Beah’s writing style is easy and accessible. This book was easy to read in the sense that I wanted to know what happened to him and to his friends. But, it was also easy because Beah’s descriptions made it easy to picture things. My childhood was probably the exact opposite of Beah’s and I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like growing up during a civil war. But, I don’t have to imagine it because Beah explains it in sufficient detail. And, it is bone-chillingly sad to imagine all of these children having to live like this.

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