A LONG WAY GONE: MEMOIRS OF A BOY SOLDIER by Ishmael Beah

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-'Em ...take our poll!

A Long Way Gone (December 13, 2007) A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is the telling by Ishmael Beah of his life in Sierra Leone between the years 1993 and 1998. Sierra Leone is a nation which has experienced seemingly continuous coups and civil war since its independence in 1961. Ishmael, now 26 years old and living in the United States, is but one of those wars orphans, soldiers, victims and survivors.

At the age of 12, the author lost home, family and village to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. At 13, after a harrowing journey marked by loneliness, fear and near capture or death at the hands of the RUF, he found imagined safety with a military unit of the ruling government. Instead of a haven, however, the author began four years as part of a fighting group - four years of guns, bayonets, drugs, revenge, brutal and vicious murders, plunder, torture, retaliation and counter-retaliation. At 16 he was handed over by his lieutenant, against his own desires, to UNICEF staff and brought to a rehabilitation center with other child soldiers from both sides of the conflict.

Somehow, people feel more comfortable when they can frame strife and war in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys." Here, however, there are only victims .and a few saints. But there is no discernable difference between the RUF and the government army in terms of mentality, methods or brutality. A bold and graphic rendering of his experiences is made readable by the simple and understated style Beah employs. His obvious emotional trauma is contained and this extraordinary young man manages to maintain the childhood version he lived in his narrative. It is a compelling story. It is an important story. And it is a story which speaks for itself.

Our members had little to say beyond expressing admiration for the author, horror at the facts, and incredulity that these events are mirrored in many places beyond Sierra Leone and continue today. Many wanted to know more about Beah's efforts to enter the U.S. and his life here; perhaps that is for another story.

It would be heartless to say that our members enjoyed A Long Way Gone. Every member however, was riveted by this book and grateful to have read it. The existence of this nightmare -- of children performing as soldiers instead of playing, hoping, learning, and dreaming -- is a reality, one the world has largely ignored. A brutal and hopeless situation is rendered on these pages with incredible grace, resilience and hopefulness.

To enhance discussion aspects of A Long Way Gone as a selection, groups might want to learn more ahead of time about Sierra Leone, UN involvement, UNICEF and other refugee and relief missions that are addressing the problem. Or consider renting and watching "Blood Diamond" as a group. A Long Way Gone is a powerful memoir. Book-'Em stands by this title, its author, and all the unfortunate child soldiers of the world.

Gazette Poll


FROM THE EDITORS: Find reviews contributed by other local book clubs at: www.larchmontgazette.com. We'd love to hear from other Larchmont book clubs and readers; email us at publisher@larchmontgazette.com.