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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

August 3, 2009

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux February 13, 2007

Interview with Ishmael Beah on The Daily Show

Ishmael Beah was twelve years old when civil war came to his village in Sierra Leone. Until then, he’d gone to school with his brother and hung out with his friends. He loved rap music and the music of Bob Marley. He’d planned to enter a hip-hop dance contest with with his brother and several buddies.

After the war started, he, his brother, and a few friends spent their days walking from village to village, scrounging for bits of food and hiding from the rebel troops who were killing, raping, and razing villages as they looted each community for food and supplies. Eventually he was recruited, along with many other boys, into the government army. Indoctrinated and drugged, he began to gleefully participate in atrocities — things that came back in nightmares and flashbacks after he was rescued from the battlefield by a UNICEF mission.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is incredibly vivid. I felt like I was seeing the West African landscape, feeling the scorching sun on the beach, and experiencing the hunger, brutality and fear. Throughout the blood-drenched narrative, I caught glimpses of Ishmael’s rural Sierra Leone culture — a place woven together by farming, traditional values, and storytelling. I also saw glimmers of extraordinary kindness and courage among the scenes of cruelty and battle.

This is an incredible book. On one level, it was a vivid, evocative memoir that, while painful to read, drew me in with its imagery and powerful storytelling. And while there has been controversy about the accuracy of the book, it’s an important primary source on contemporary history. It is also a study of humanity — it helped me more deeply understand violence and gave me a glimpse at recovery from a life of unimaginable horror.

I highly recommend it for mature teens and adults. It is one of the most powerful books I have read.

Also see Rebecca’s review of this book on Lost in Books


One Comment leave one →
  1. April 29, 2010 5:58 pm

    I’d completely missed the news about the controversy. I agree with what they say at the end of the article – this raises questions about fact-checking, but not necessarily about his experiences. This does sound like an incredibly powerful book.

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