Friday, May 11, 2007

A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is the remarkable story of a young boy (age 12) who struggled to stay alive after rebels attacked his home village in Sierra Leone. His struggles kept him constantly on the run until he finally landed in a village protected by government soldiers, who eventually recruited him and his friends. It wasn't as if he had much choice. If he had refused he had little chance at living.

Ishmael Beah was thoroughly indoctrinated into the soldier's way of life and it wasn't long before killing was commonplace, unremarkable to him. It sounded to me rather like a gang mentality: kill them before they kill you. He didn't hesitate to kill villagers, including other children, with rarely a second thought. He even laughed at the stark terror in the eyes of his captives.

Ishmael was one of the lucky ones. He was rescued by UNICEF and placed in a camp with other boy soldiers, where he slowly learned how to become "human" again. Because of his excellent memory and literacy he was eventually whisked off to the UN in New York to tell his story, and later he found his way there to live.

The UNICEF camp appeared to be experimental; they didn't know what they were dealing with at first. But they seem to have figured it out eventually. After years of seeing nothing but greeting cards from UNICEF and no real stories of what they do, I was gratified to hear that they actually do some good.

It's a sad, horrifying, unreal story that actually has a happy ending. This incredible young man is only 26 years old. His ability to tell his story simply, without melodrama, makes it compelling reading.

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