A Long Way Gone - Ishmael Beah
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: 2007
Setting: Sierra Leone
My Rating: 4 Stars
This is the story of Ishmael beah's childhood - how, aged just 12, he fled from rebels attaching his village to wander the violent land, before being conscripted into the army - where he learnt that he too was capable of terrible acts. Once he emerged he decided to tell his story, a story of the loss of innocence and the power of redemption. (Source: Book Blurb)
For someone who has worked with refugees for a number of years now, having to constantly listen to horror stories of the atrocities of war (brutal killings, rape, etc) and flight to safety, I thought I had become somewhat immune, maybe even nonchalant about the stories I hear and read. I guess that is why I was not initially too keen on picking up this book, I’ve had it on my bookshelf for months.
Beah however gets to you – he reaches into your soul, plucks out your heart, pierces it with a million tiny needles and puts it back, leaving you bleeding out and emotionally spent. That was my experience with this book.
At 12 years old in 1993, Beah, his brother and friends leave their village to perform their rap routine at a neighbouring village. This would be the last time that Beah would see his family and village ever again as rebels attack the village, senselessly killing everyone in their wake and forcing the rest to flee. With no home or family to go back to, Beah and his friends set off for safer villages but this journey is not without its challenges as the boys feared by many on suspicion of being rebel soldiers. Beah speaks of his experiences as he tried to get away from the war. How he was eventually captured and recruited as a child soldier; pumped with drugs and brainwashed to hate and become a killing machine and his eventual rehabilitation.
The narrative was a bit distant which I found very apt because any more of the descriptions and I wouldn’t have been able to finish the book. I had to pause a few times just to get my mind off the heavy subject matter in the book.
My only critique was that the ending was left hanging, I was curious to find out what happened at the Sierra Leone consulate in Guinea, how did he make it to the US? What was his integration and resettlement experience? I have so many questions at the end and sadly no answers.
It’s appalling to see how the so called ‘leaders’ manipulate and use children to further their personal agenda with no regard to the kind of harm they expose them to. I was so glad Beah was able to come out on the other side, bruised and traumatized, but alive and with a second chance to enjoy ‘what was left of his childhood’. A prayer for all the other children who are yet to find refuge.
This is a great read that everyone should read. Any maybe, the next time you come across a refugee or someone fleeing from war or conflict, we will be just a little bit more kinder.