A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Grade: 3.5 stars out of 5
Synopsis: “In A LONG WAY GONE, Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a riveting story. At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. Eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. This is, at last, a story of redemption and hope.”
Review: I was required to read this memoir for a school assignment—Civic Leadership—to become more globally aware. I found myself captivated of his tale yet I have to question it at times. You can imagine us as an impromptu “Book Club” as we discussed the book every so often during class. One question that was brought up was Beah’s vivid recollection. While being a child solider for the government Beah takes many drugs: Brown brown, a combination of crack and gun powder, heroine (this one I’m 50-50), marijuana, and this white pill that makes him addicted. The credibility of the memoir is questioned. If the memoir was written as a fiction based off a true story then I’m sure that it would much better receive. So to make easier on me, my review will pretend that A Long Way Gone is a “fiction” piece.
The first half of the tale is the tension building or how we perceived it, the bore. As terrible as it may sound, it’s how we all summarized it. Beah travels to a village to see his grandmother and to perform in a talent show, rumors spread that the rebel army (an army trying to overthrow the government who captures children for their army) are coming, so he flees. We arrive in Destination B, same thing happens again. Destination C—and again except this time he loses his friends and brother during an actual rebel raid. Destination D he runs into a group of acquaintances and joins them. They travel together for another few destinations (E, F, H…) until finally they reach a village where his family is staying along with his brother (that he lost previously). The first half ends rebel raiding the village, killing lives, burning down huts, and shooting at the group while they run away towards the bush before reuniting with his family.
The second half is where the real tale begins for me. This is where he is captured by the government army, trained, fought in the war, and finally given to UNICEF. Beah goes through rehabilitation where he develops a friendship with the nurse that aids him to recovery. The reader follows Beah through his anguish, mistrust, despair, and horror. He finally rejoins society when a distant uncle picks him up from the center. I’ll end it at that.
The question comes up for me was how and why was he chosen to come to New York. Beah lets the reader know what he is there for but why him and not the other hundreds of child soldiers. There are some iffy aspects during the read. He goes off tangent at points; quickly shuffle through one thing then goes into a long-winded description of another.
Overall: It is the message it delivers that makes this memoir powerful, not the actual tale.
I would recommend watching Blood Diamond with this memoir.