A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the terrible wars in Africa. It is the story of a 12 year old boy who, along with some friends, is separated from his family when the rebels attack. The first quarter of the book is about the children's attempt to keep out of the way of either of the armies and to find their families. Eventually, they are caught by the army and given guns and drugs and turned into soldiers. The book does not go into great detail about all the atrocitis the children commit, but the ones that are alluded to are horrifying. The use of drugs and the tactics that engender hatred of the enemy are terrible.
One of the strongest things about this book is the ease with which children can be turned into terrorist. Ishmael Beah is able to give us enough of a glimpse into his pre-war life to realize that he is an intelligent and kind boy who was turned into a monster despite his intention to not become a soldier.
The last part of the book is his reclaimation and I was just in awe of the people who do this incredible work. One scene stays with me. The boys are in the reclaimation center with other boys who fought on the opposite side, but finally out of danger. Despite the work of the staff, they end up in a fight and boys are killed. The terrible brain-washing that inflames their hatered is so difficult to eradicate that even when they are safe, it is hard to let go of. To all the things that happen, the staff continues to convey to the boys that it is not their fault. That is probably one of the strongest messages...the boys are not at fault. They have been turned into killing machines by adults and used for their own ends.
This book is about Sierra Leone, but it is found all around the world. Children raised on hatred to this extent are unable to use the same kind of reasoning as adults and they kill blindly. Their childhood is being stolen from them and turned into something terrible.
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