Book Review: A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
By Ruth Gonzalez
Childhood is a time of pure innocence, when life is just beginning and one can be carefree. But sadly in countries like Sierra Leone, children are thrust into war and forced to become killing machines, as is the case with Ishmael Beah, who writes his experience as a child soldier in A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier.
His story begins with him at age 12 escaping rebel soldiers and wandering in a land filled with horrifying violence while witnessing things that no child should ever see. At that time, rebels from neighboring Liberia were attempting to overthrow the already corrupt government in order to control the diamond mines. When he turned 13, he was captured by government soldiers and went from a child to a child soldier.
In his calm, breathtakingly refreshing voice, he depicts how he had to finish his food in less than 60 seconds in order to go back to killing; how he was given brown-brown, a mind numbing mix of cocaine and gunpowder just so he could function like a killing machine with no mind or soul. Seeing corpses blood, guts and mayhem was all in a day’s work for young Ishmeal, especially killing people. He describes how he killed rebel prisoners. He shot them in their feet and after a day of crying, he shot them in the head. But in the midst of the war, there was an outlet for Ishmael through hip-hop. He sometimes performed rap songs to the rebels, which offered a healthy distraction to his now violent lifestyle.
Eventually after two years of hell he was removed from fighting by UNICEF aides and taken to a rehabilitation center for former child soldiers, who were trying to make sense of their tragic upbringings.
Unfortunately, his story is not an uncommon one. It is estimated worldwide, that there are over 300,000 child soldiers fighting in the worlds most deadly conflicts. Whether in Sierra Leone, The Congo or Sri Lanka, these children are robbed of their childhood innocence. I purchased the book at Starbucks (as all proceeds from book sales will go towards funding UNICEF programs for children affected by armed conflicts) and I couldn’t put it down. I can’t even imagine growing up in the type of environment where you have no choice but to kill for survival. In some ways, it makes me more grateful of the things I have in life, like a safe place to call home, loving parents and most importantly my childhood.
This is without doubt one of the most important war stories of our generation. A must read for all teens and adults alike.