Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A Long Way Gone: Ishmael Beah

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Back when I wrote an update on Dharfur, my blogging friend Chirp recommended a book, A Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. I ordered it that very day, and read it this last week.

It is a truly heartbreaking autobiographical book about a young mischievous boy growing up in Sierra Leone, leading a relatively simple and carefree life in his village with his family. It is very African. He talks about the games he and his friends play, his fascination with rap music and the simple joys of the life he is leading.

Then the rebels come. The invade the villages, hopped up on dope, their dead eyes with no pity, raping, killing, chopping off limbs, stealing all the village food and burning the village behind them, often with people locked inside their huts.

Ishmael escapes once with friends, eventually returning to the village to find his entire family gone. Most of the book has to do with what he has to do to survive. Many villages are very afraid of groups of boys, even boys as young as these are – in their early adolescence – and will hurt them. At the very least, most of the villages hurry them along. At one point Ishmael is hiding out in the jungle forest on his own, hiding from lions, giant feral pigs, sleeping up in trees and looking for the rare fruit or grass that he can eat without getting sick.

Finally, after meeting up with some other boys and continuing to try to find his family, a village takes him in, a village run by the state soldiers. As they are attacked by rebels, the boys are forced to make a choice – go out on their own again (where the rebels will also try to recruit them, and if they refuse, will kill them) or agree to be soldiers. These are kids 12, 13, 14 carrying AK 47’s. As part of their training they are given drugs on a regular basis which keep them hopped up, full of energy, and not sleeping for days. The young boys learn to kill without pity. He becomes the very people he was fleeing.

This is a book about redemption. At the center where the boy soldiers are taken, they are constantly told “none of this was your fault.” It is a very African approach, a very human and loving approach to redemption of lives that might have been totally lost to the horrors they have witnessed and inflicted. The author is now nearly 30, and sounds – unlikely as it might be – happy.

Thank you, Chirp, for recommending this wonderful book.

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March 25, 2008 - Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Biography, Blogging, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Family Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual

19 Comments »

  1. Your welcome!

    Comment by Chirp | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. every time i read about a good book i get so upset… i can’t concentrate long enough to pass one maybe if i was lucky 3 pages! :( i lost the ability to read a book quite few years now.. i can’t wait to start acupuncture which i think might help! but i have to wait for that too as it’s too expensive and need to be regular for long time! :(

    but i’m glad to see people reading and enjoying! :)

    Comment by noracassandra | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  3. I have been seeing this book for quite some time in bookstore’s shelves, and they always recommend this book if you are a fan of the Kite Runner. After reading your review I can see why. I shall add this book to my bookshelf as well as soon I finished the current books I have.

    Comment by Angelo | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  4. I am now reading 19 Minutes – did you recommend that, too, Chirp? I can hardly put it down.

    The Beah book is easy in terms of readability, but very hard in terms of content. And as citizens of the world – a must read. We really don’t want to place the burden of fighting on our children. It’s too Lord of the Flies for me. We want our children to have a childhood. What happened in Ishmael’s life was pure tragedy, except for the redemptive love at the end.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  5. Noracassandra, reading takes too much concentration? You have a lot of responsibilities, with your daughter, and the restaurant and your husband . . . I bet the day will come again when you have time and focus to read.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 25, 2008 | Reply

  6. I have decided to use this book with my grade 10 English Lit class (we’re doing reading circles); so naturally, I pulled it off the shelf it recently. I must say, my reaction to it was just as visceral as the first time I read it. It’s a jarring reality check, and it provides instant perspective on life’s ‘problems’. A must-read, in my humble opinion. I’m glad you enjoyed it. :)

    Comment by C | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  7. Tenth grade will be a perfect time for this sobering read. I imagine Ishmael will have nightmares, on and off, for the rest of his life. I am just thankful he has been able to use his experience to talk to others about the penalties society pays when they recruit children as combatants. I would love to be a mouse in the corner for your classroom discussions of this book. :-)

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  8. 19 Minutes by Jodi Piccoult??

    Comment by Chirp | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  9. Yeh, did you recommend it? I am reading it, can’t put it down. Very scary. A lot like “We need to talk about Kevin”, same subject, different perspective.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  10. Yes I might of had, I think I wrote a review about it. I love her books. I have “We need to talk about kevin” but I didn’t start it yet.

    Comment by Chirp | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  11. It was you, Chirp! I found it Here, at the review of Picoult and My Sister’s Keeper. Later in the comment section you mention the Beah book, but I didn’t order it until you mentioned it again. When you mentioned it again, I ordered it right away and read it when it came; somehow it bumped out the ten or so other books on the priority nightstand! Well done! Now I’m on your second recommendation – 19 MInutes – and I have Salem Falls in reserve. What are you reading now?

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  12. I suggest when you start We Need To Talk about Kevin” that you and Mrm or a couple of your other friends read it together. It is a VERY difficult read.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  13. Right now I am reading an easy book .. “Fashion Babylon” because I was extremly disappointed in Suite Francaise, I needed something light, quick and funny to make up for it ;)

    Comment by Chirp | March 26, 2008 | Reply

  14. I remember there were some dry parts in Suite Francaise, but all in all, it was a book I loved and can still remember months later. I thought Nemirovsky was really good at getting people’s heads. Even the cat’s head! I loved the first part of the book the best, but I also loved the way characters from the first part kept popping up later in the book. I was just sorry she never got to finish writing it.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  15. I love this book. It makes me feel grateful for what I have, knowing that some child didn’t have what I did. Ishmael is a wonderful person just because he wrote about hs experience. I would love to meet him someday. I hop that he contuines to write stories about his life. Thanks to my AP English teacher recommending this book. I know of someone that is writing a autobiography on thier life as a solider, so please be on the look out for that!

    Comment by LaSalle | May 29, 2008 | Reply

  16. Thank you for visiting and commenting, LaSalle. And thank God for teachers who will give their students something like this, difficult, emotionally, to read.

    I agree – I would love to meet this man. He received such a great gift, being taken from the violence of life as a child soldier, and being rehabilitated in such a loving way. When you read the book, you can’t help but wish him well, and to feel bad that such a gentle spirit had to undergo such an experience.

    Comment by intlxpatr | May 29, 2008 | Reply

  17. do you by any chance have anny idea as to why ishmeal might have name the book a long way gone?

    Comment by Andrea | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  18. Andrea, I think it is like another phrase, long time gone, which means in the past, and it feels like a long time ago. I think he is saying it is like it happened to another person, his life now is so different.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  19. [...] Way Gone in PB Just a quick note to say that if you have been waiting to read Long Way Gone in paperback, it is now on the [...]

    Pingback by Long Way Gone in PB « Here There and Everywhere | August 19, 2008 | Reply


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