The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991–2002. Ishmael Beah’s story begins in 1993, when he was 12 years old. In his harrowingly honest memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah transports you to Sierra Leone, and describes with painful details his journey through hell and back — from a teenager rapping with his friends to a government soldier addicted to drugs, and finally, his recovery and escape.
The Civil War did not touch Beah until he left his hometown, Mogbwemo, with his brother and a friend to travel to Mattru Jong. They loved rap music and were planning to enter a talent show in Mattru Jong. Beah didn’t say goodbye to his parents or even tell them where he was going, since he was planning to come back the next day. He never saw his parents again.
By the time he reached Mattru Jong, the news had already spread that rebels had invaded his hometown. Beah goes on to describe his journey as he tries to find his family, escape rebels, and survive a merciless war. Beah is eventually is picked up by the government army and becomes fueled by hate, violence, and drugs, until he is rescued by UNICEF, receives counseling, and eventually flees the country on his own.
Even as he describes in great detail the many disturbing events he witnessed, endured, or was a part of himself, Beah’s story is honest and raw, and beautifully written. I finished the book with great admiration for this man, knowing that he has been able to not only survive, but to recover and eventually rise above a war that was intent on destroying him. I recommend this book to everyone.
It is estimated that there are 300,000 more child soldiers in 50 different countries. Since escaping, Beah has become an author and human rights activist for children affected by war. His first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, came out last January and I am really looking forward to reading it.