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A Long Way Gone

Author: Ishmael Beah
Year: 2007
Pages: 229
Amazon: A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone is a true story but it is unbelievable to me. In Ishmael Beah own memoir he recounts his childhood as a soldier in war torn Sierra Leone in the 90's. Beah tells his own horrific tale in a calm and detached manner with gut wrenching detail.

The book begins when Ishmael is a careless, hip-hop loving (rapper's delight!) 12 year-old who leaves his village with his brother and a few friends to enter a talent show in a neighboring village. It will be the last time he sees his family. Beah's village is attacked and destroyed by the Rebel Army. This begins years of wandering the countryside, trying to survive in a small pack with other homeless refugee boys and staying away from danger in its many forms.

Finally, Beah is picked up by the government army (which is strikingly similar to the Rebels) and turned into a soldier. He learns to kill, pillage and maim all the while hopped up on drugs without any understanding or reason. He goes into painstaking detail to detail some of his mind-blowing experiences as a boy soldier. Any reader will constantly ask himself if this could really all be true. A boy this young actually doing the crazy shit that he describes.

Beah somehow rehabilitates with loads of courage, an amazing will to survive and a heavy dose of luck. He seems to realize that while he has come such an incredible long way in his life there are so many more children soldiers who didn't. The reader must admire Beah perseverance and success. The truth though is that the doom and dread that he describes throughout the book is really too much to fathom.

Litty’s Take

This book did what most good books do. It got me thinking. The stats say that there are over 300,000 children soldiers in over fifty world conflicts that are living similar nightmares as Ishmael Beah. I can't accept that. If I did, I might drop everything I'm doing with my life and try to find a solution because I can't imagine that happening in a world that I live in. Or I might just believe that the world is an evil place. Both of those options are so awesomely unappealing that I will probably pretend like this book was a novel and file the story in the deep recesses of my brain rather than try to make sense of it all. Depressing. Yup.

I'm not sure how society can break down to such a degree and I'm not sure why anybody would want it to. Ishmael Beah doesn't get into that. He tells it how it was. To him, the why didn't matter. He talks about himself like he was a pawn who was at the fate of the whims of luck and his own destiny. Although Ishmael has accepted that what happened to him was not his fault he does not try to disavow his actions. He also does not try and take credit for all the amazing success he has had in his life. I guess he realizes the story he is telling is much bigger than himself.

I would recommend this book. It will make you feel uncomfortable and that's because it is just that way. It also will make you appreciate what you have a whole lot more. Maybe it will even spur you on to do something.

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