Saturday, 5 June 2010

Book Review: A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah (2007)

A story of brutal survival amidst a vicious civil war, A Long Way Gone humanizes the agony of the countless and nameless child soldiers caught in conflict.

Ishmael Beah recounts his story as a 12 year old in rural Sierra Leone. Displaced from his village when the civil war erupts in early 1993 between the Revolutionary United Front and government forces, he loses his family and for a while survives on his own in the bush before being recruited into the government army as a child soldier.

Provided with rudimentary training and an endless supply of drugs, for two years he becomes an active participant in a hellishly bloody kill-or-be-killed hit-and-run conflict. Scouting missions, ambushes, fire-fights in the jungle, hand-to-hand combat, and cold-blooded throat slitting: this became the life of Ismael Beah at 13 years old. Killing becomes routine, death becomes meaningless, and his entire world is covered with blood and corpses.

Beah is eventually sent to a United Nations camp for the rehabilitation of child soldiers, and slowly regains a semblance of a normal life. He eventually travels to New York to represent Sierra Leone at a UN conference on children in war zones. But upon his return to Sierra Leone, his plight is not over: the civil war catches up with his new life, and he once again needs to flee to avoid the brutality of war.

Beah manages to always remind us that this is a story of a child. Despite the never-ending blood-letting and narrow escapes from death, he constantly refers to the tears, migraines, loneliness, a desperate longing for family, and the constant search for opportunities to act like a child who enjoys music and dancing.

A Long Way Gone is a harrowing tale, the equivalent of shining a flashlight on a festering, infected open wound. Beah is exposed to the worst that the evil in mankind can come up with; that he survives and maintains his humanity despite the hell that engulfs him is testament to the ultimate strength of the human spirit.

Subtitled "Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier".
218 pages plus a Chronology.

Published in hardcover by Douglas & McIntyre.

The Ace Black Blog Book Review Index is here.

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