Friday, January 29, 2010

Book Review: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

I've had this book on my actual real TBR shelf for close to two years. My husband, who is on the local university's faculty, takes part in the "Life of the Mind" discussion groups for incoming freshman each August. Ishmael Beah's memoir of his years as a child soldier in Sierra Leone was the university's choice a couple of years ago. I don't know why I took so long to read this, but I'm really glad I finally did.

This is not a pleasant book, although Beah is an extremely likable narrator. Even when he is brutally killing innocent villagers, the reader knows that Beah is a gentle boy forced into a life of brutality over which he literally has no control. The story starts when Ishmael is about 12 years old, and his peaceful life in a rural village in Sierra Leone is suddenly altered forever when the rebels attack anyone and everyone in the countryside. Ishmael and a band of boys manage to evade the rebels for a couple of years by wandering from ransacked village to jungle to ransacked village, but eventually Ishmael is forced to become a boy soldier like so many others. His only goal is to kill those who killed his family, and to survive.

This is an absolutely heart-breaking book, not only because Ishmael tells his story with such honesty, but because there are still thousands and thousands of children throughout the world who are forced into being soldiers today. It's hard to imagine the devastation of the lives of these children, when we in the U.S. are concerned about if it is OK for our 14-year-olds to read Twilight or if a teacher was really justified in making a kid stay after school. We have no idea.

This book actually has a very happy ending—as happy as I think it can get. I wish the best for Ishmael Beah, and pray that he will stop being plagued by nightmares. And that his voice may save the lives of other children.

Other reviews of A Long Way Gone:
Book Lady's Blog
Books By Their Cover
Laughing Stars
Lost in Books
The Book Book
Discerning Reader


NerdyMe said...

This is a great recommendation! This looks like a great book. Will definitely find a chance to read it. I like memoirs! I just finished one (which is not very pleasant either) and am now reading a no-brainer cheesy romance novel... I will read this one after my brain gets sweetened enough to be ready for another mind-blowing memoir.

Jennifer said...

I read this a couple years ago and remember being really immersed in it. Such a heartbreaking story and it's appalling what children in the world are forced to do. It's so hard to believe. Great review!

Harvee (Book Dilettante) said...

Our local university had this book for a First Read for freshmen a few years ago. We were also lucky to have the author and his adoptive mother visit; Ishmael gave a talk to a full house and drove it home to the students the importance hard work in college. A great experience for all.

Literary Feline said...

I think I've had my copy of this book on my shelf for just as long. At least you finally read yours. :-)

This does sound like a heartbreaking book. I read Beasts of a Nation a couple of years ago, which was a fictional account of a child soldier in some unnamed West African country. Very moving.

(the verification word is "gender". An actual word this time! LOL

Anonymous said...

You must be picking at my TBR shelf! I've got this one, too :-) I bought it over a year ago from the Waldenbooks we used to have. I'm really wanting to get to it, but I don't know how soon I'll get there.

wisteria said...

I am so glad you wrote this candid review. I have wanted to read this book for a long time. I tend to read a lot of books about social issues and this one is in my scope. Terrific review!

PS..About Twilight, I have a 5th grader reading it. (9 years old) Couldn't believe it.

christa @ mental foodie said...

Heartbreaking was exactly how I felt after I read the book - especially the part where he chose to do what he had to do in order to survive... no kids should have to go through that :( But I'm glad for the happy ending too and wish him all the best!

Eesti said...

I strongly recommend A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah as it provides a powerful look into the life of a child soldier. Beah uses vivid and sometimes painful imagery to depict the harshness of life during civil conflict. This book is definitely not for someone looking for a light read, but I do believe that anyone interested should pick it up immediately.

Amy Pollard said...

I agree with your review. Please check out mine: