A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: Book Review

Title: A Long Way Gone

Author: Ishmael Beah

Genre: Memoir

A Long Way Gone is a searing war story of the Sierra Leone conflict of the 1990s. It is a true life account of a boy in the volatile war zone, who was forcibly turned into a soldier. The book talks of the horrors of war and yet, it is a story of hope and the triumph of the human spirit.

Review

The book is a touching memoir of an unwilling boy soldier, who is forced to join the army in Sierra Leone’s civil war. At twelve years of age, Ishmael is orphaned when his village is attacked. Ishmael, along with his brothers and friends move from village to village, in search of shelter and food. Later, Ishmael is conscripted as a soldier in the army and becomes capable of horrifying violence. The boy soldiers are addicted to drugs by the army so as to brainwash them into murdering and ‘taking revenge’.

Eventually, Beah is rescued by the UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation center at Freetown. It seems that this would be the turnaround point for him and his life would change for the better.

But, his experience is harrowing for he now goes through the withdrawal symptoms from both drugs and violence. In addition, he has to relearn to live in the society that itself is now scared and distrusting.

When the war reaches Freetown, Ishmael manages to escape to New York city where he takes refuge with Laura Simms, who is his future foster mother. He finishes his education from NYC and is now a human rights activist.

What works well

Ishmael has a literary voice that is calm and very evocative in places. In Sierra Leone, the native languages are very image driven and that imagery shows up in his voice.

It is chilling to read of war but it draws in the reader because of its simple narration and the message of hope against all odds.

A Long Way Gone was nominated for a Quill Award in the Best Debut Author Category in 2006.

There has been an accuracy dispute over some of the events that occur in the book but all in all, it is considered a credible account of that time.

Verdict

A Long Way Gone is evocative, chilling and at the same time renewing your hope in humanity and healing.

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