Saturday, September 28, 2013
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the terrible wars in Africa. It is a story of a 12 year old boy living at the time of a civil war in Sierra Leone. At first Ishmael tells of village life and the kind of thing that normal boys do. He is aware of the war in Sierra Leone, but his village has not been involved at the beginning of the book. However, one day, when he and 4-5 other boys his age are out of the village it is taken over by rebels and most of the people are killed. None of the boys know what happened to his family. The boys hide out in the woods traveling from place to place trying to avoid both the rebels and the government soldiers. 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 atrocities 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. Eventually, maelIsh makes his way out of Sierra Leone and into the hands of care workers who have set up camps to treat these boy soldiers and convince them that the things they did were not their fault. They have unbelievable patience and commitment to rehabilitate these children. The last part of the book is his reclamation and I was just in awe of the people who do this incredible work. One scene stays with me. The boys are in the reclamation 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 hatred 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. Eventually, Ishmael is chosen to speak before the UN and tell the story of the child soldiers. He stays in New York and goes back to high school which is absolutely incredible when you realize what he has been through. 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.
Posted by Anne Hawn at 8:06 AM