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
Paula McLain’s, Circling the Sun, conveys the beautiful and detailed tale of one young woman’s life. McLain vividly paints the the Kenyan sky, elaborately drawing the landscape with her words in such a way that makes it nearly tangible to the reader.
British bred Beryl Markham grows up in Kenya - a place where the land is her playground. Abandoned by her mother and brother, she is raised by the native Kipsigis Tribe, her father and their horses. In a non-conventional manner, Beryl receives an education through experience, adventure and play. Her unique adolescence shapes her into a tenacious, captivating young woman, who seeks adventure, loves fully and embraces the unknown. Beryl’s world is turned upside down when she must attend formal schooling. Not soon after, her young adult life begins with a series of tumultuous relationships and conventional rules Beryl simply cannot conform to. Motherless, she is ill-prepared and lacking guidance as she struggles to map out the role women play in colonial Kenya in the 1920’s. Interestingly enough, this book - contrary to many colonial books of this nature- focuses on white women residing in Kenya, rather than the Kenyan colonial struggle itself.
In one light, Beryl is consumed by the traditional ways and so, she marries. However, she soon realizes the weight and personal incompatibility marriage bears. And so, she chooses to fulfill her long-awaited dream of becoming a horse trainer. In another light, Beryl is a fearless pioneer. Throughout her entire life, she constantly defied the customs that dictated it. Whether it was working as a female, training horses, flying planes or simply having lovers as opposed to being someone’s wife, Beryl erected the life that she wanted - and not anyone else. Written beautifully, Beryl’s accomplishments literally and figuratively fly off the page in this historical piece.
Circling the Sun, is a compelling adventure of trials, love, and perseverance. Brazen Beryl Markham pushes life to its limits in the most raw and fervent of courses. Her never-ending pursuit for greatness is garrisoned by her lust for adventure and her unshakable will.