a long way gone: memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
I’m lucky. The first book I’m reviewing might be the best memoir I’ve ever read. Ishmael Beah’s account of his time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone is heartbreaking, gruesome and beautiful. His storytelling captures the reader, forcing them to turn the page even as they blink back tears. This book is not for the weak of heart, nor to read while eating.
His story begins in 1993 as Ishmael first gets separated from his family and lives on the run with other boys. They must live in the forest to avoid death or becoming soldiers for the rebels. As each gleam of hope is abruptly destroyed, Ishmael is eventually forcefully recruited by the army and brainwashed and drugged into killing without remorse. After two years in the army he and other young men are taken to be rehabilitated. It takes a long time for the boys to overcome the violence they’d been exposed to and the withdraw from drugs. Ishmael is finally reunited with an uncle who lives in the city that the rehabilitation center is in, though he has lost his parents and brothers to the war.
Throughout his narrative, the author succeeds in conveying his intense emotions. He puts the reader right in the situation as he recounts the thoughts racing through his mind, his hellish nightmares and memories of happier times. He allows us to see his life, unashamed that we might judge his actions or pity his position. I challenge anyone to read this and walk away unmoved by the elegance, honesty and passion that A Long Way Gone offers.