Friday, April 13, 2007

Review of "Long Way Gone" by Ishmael Beah

Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider by Ishmael Beah (Douglas & McIntyre, 2007)

It seems that many people in the West, including myself, are largely unaware of what has transpired in Sierra Leone. This is a touching account told by a skilled storyteller. Lighthearted content, such as the author's musical tastes, is skillfully mixed with the grim realities of being a 12 year old solider in Sierra Leone. He portrays his involvement in the civil war in a fashion that is very compelling. The account is personal but also very maturely composed.

Ishmael was thrust into this war when rebels killed his family. He then proceeds to slaughter and fight, and eventually discovers that revenge can be an endless cycle only leading to chaos and ugliness. After many adventures which seem unfit for a 12 year old, he was chosen to go to New York to speak at a UN children's conference. He is totally awestruck about New York and puzzled by the white things falling from the air. He then returns to Sierra Leone to more chaos, and then eventually moves to the U.S.

The countless kids who get drawn into the war either by force, necessity, or familial revenge are all deeply impacted by the things they experience. It is hard to imagine what sort of horrible scars this sort of experiences leaves in the life of a 12 year old. And as if the emotional trauma wasn't enough, the author also documents the heavy use of drugs such as cocaine.

There aren't really any sort of explicit religious, spiritual, philosophical, or theological statements in the book. Implicit in the book is a tension between pessimism and optimistic humanism. There are passing references to Muslim clerics and the religious practices of other people, but religion is not a central theme and there are no personal reflections that are obviously religious. The book leaves a few seemingly unfinished trains of thought. I sort of wish the author would have filled in a few of the blanks, but it did add a bit to the intruige.

Ishmael has not only profound experiences to share, but also a great amount of talent as a writer. This is a memorable book. I highly recommend reading it.

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