There have been few books that have left such an impact on me — "A Long Way Gone" is one of them.
Set in Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah’s memoir illustrates how life can go from average, everyday normal, to the throes of war - overnight. From school children to child soldiers, this story highlights just how little separate the former from the latter. Children do not want to become soldiers, fighters, killers. They want to go to school, play football, listen and rap to music. However, circumstances out of their control engulf them and turn their worlds upside down. This story does an excellent job of demonstrating that and in turn, humanizing child soldiers.
By following the personal story of Beah, readers learn the horrors that surround war. Through Beah, we learn that as an adolescent boy on the run, he is often misperceived as the threat he is fleeing. Therefore, he is rejected and chased away from villages he passes while fleeing the war.
Faced with the option - kill or be killed - Beah joins the army. He notes the horrors that become and surround his daily life - murders, rape, drugs, guns, violence, fear. It's often hard to remember that he is still barely a teenager and not a warmonger.
Beah does end up in a rehabilitation center. It is here, through the help of UNICEF and his incredible nurse that he begins to recover. It is also here that the impact and influence of war is perhaps most potently demonstrated - when the child soldiers try to return to being what they should have been all along, just children. Something that may seem so easy and so natural to return to, is in reality incredibly challenging for the children and caretakers alike. Nevertheless, they persist. I won't spoil the inspiring ending of the book, so I encourage you to read it yourself.
Beah's decision to share his story with the world is a brave one. His story is eye-opening and heartbreaking and quite frankly, a story that the world needs to know as long as child soldiers continue to exist.
** If you are interested in becoming more educated on child soldiers, we also would recommend watching the short movie, “They Came At Night.” You can watch it online for free, here: vimeo.com/81378993