A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone

  • Genre
    • Non-Fiction, Memoir
  • Summary
    • Ishmael Beah takes us through the loss of his home during the wars in Sierre Leone, his recruitment by the army to become a child soldier, and his eventual rescue and rehabilitation.
  • Information
    • I was scared to read this book. The idea of forcing children to do your violence for you seems worse to me than killing them. I couldn’t imagine, if I was taught to kill as little kid, how I could ever go back to being a remotely functional human being. I was terrified to be in the mind of somebody who had gone through this. That same fear is what drove me to try it. I had to know what this is really like. 
    • I was wrong, of course. Ishmael Beah did become a functional human being. More than that, an extraordinary one. He found family, friends, redemption and purpose. I’ve always been someone who wanted to believe in transformation, in transcending even the most impossible circumstances. He doesn’t sugar coat that process. He is honest about how hard it was, and how some of his friends didn’t make it out.
    • This book taught me more about humanity than any ten psychology textbooks.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • Strangely beautiful. Ishmael Beah is a person of incredible hope, perception and appreciation for the little things. He’s a music lover and a loyal friend. These things kept him alive, and it seems important to him to convey not just the bad of his life, but the good, and the way that even when those good things were incredibly small, they could mean everything.
    • This book skips directly from his life before being caught up in the army to the day he was rescued and began his rehabilitation. His boy soldier days are told in flashback, concurrently with his recovery. That was a mercy; I don’t think I could have gotten through it if there had been page after page of unrelieved battle.
    • Also, it seems to reflect how he himself perceived it. Any time they weren’t training or fighting, the soldiers got the children high on drugs and plopped them in front of a movie screen; usually something violent like Rambo. The days of actual fighting were a blur until therapy began.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • Beah is just a great storyteller. There are so many little scenes that stuck in my mind, because he tells them so well.
  • Content Warnings
    • There is incredible violence here, though not always where you’d expect it. He tends to skim and spare us the gory battles, but preserve smaller moments, like the times before his soldier days when villagers would beat his friends out of their homes, just because they had learned to fear all strangers, even young boys. This has the effect of letting you understand the depth of the ugliness of their world, without drowning you in it. He is not writing a slasher film. His goal is not to shock and disgust you. His goal is to make you understand how someone can survive something so terrible.
  • Quotes
    • “Some nights the sky wept stars that quickly floated and disappeared into the darkness before our wishes could meet them. ”
    • “When I was young, my father used to say, ‘If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.’ I thought about these words during my journey, and they kept me moving even when I didn’t know where I was going. Those words became the vehicle that drove my spirit forward and made it stay alive.”
    • “I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but I’ve come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge; then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end…”
    • “…children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance.”
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