a long way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

a long way gone grabs you, throws you into the bush, and doesn’t let go. It is the story of Ishmael Beah, a young Sierra Leonan boy living through a long and bloody civil war. But unlike most war stories, this one contains a facet quite horrifying to modern minds: the use and abuse of child soldiers.

Perhaps due to English being his second language (perhaps not) a long way gone is told in a very simple style. Base feelings, sentences, easy to understand. What may be bad for other books is perfect for this biography because it encapsulates Ishmael’s childhood. It reads as if a child was reading it to you. Which it makes it just that much more devastating.

For the feint of heart, Ishmael does not shy away from the horrors of war. The shootings, the executions, the burnings, the rape, the war crimes innumerable; are all there in simple, excruciating detail. We follow Ishmael from his initial escape to his time on the run to his time fighting with the army, and finally his rehabilitation and escape from the country.

I think the hardest part for me was his description of the group of boys who were plucked off the front lines and brought to the capital for rehabilitation. How they acted out, beat up teachers, beat up each other, woke up outside not knowing how they got there. How broken they became because of war. To the point that Ishmael’s dreams, terrible in description, weren’t as bad as the things he witnessed and did.

I do wish there was more to this book. A happier, longer ending detailing his journey to Oberlin College and becoming an advocate for child soldiers everywhere. Something to match the smiling face on the back cover. But, like Night, this book isn’t about the after. It’s about the time during. Where optimism hangs by a thread and hope for a future lives only as an idea. This is an important book. You should read it.

4 out of 4 stars.

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