A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah takes readers on an extraordinary and memorable journey through his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Through his perspective, readers experience and understand the awful acts of war and their impact on humanity. Beah, captured and recruited by the Sierra Leonean government army at age 12, was forced into combat against the “rebels.” For three years, Beah and other children were brainwashed by the government, taught to be killers, and forced to smoke marijuana.
Beah faced many trials; not only did he lose his entire family at the start of the war, but he also witnessed the killing of many of his closest friends. Beah writes about the world between reality and dreaming, about how the line disappears and nightmares become reality. He often went weeks with little or no sleep, attacking one village after another.
In describing his survival, Beah weaves in his memories of childhood, the value of storytelling, the important role of his elders, and the sense of community he had growing up. Through these memories – though many are not accessible until after his rehabilitation – he embraces himself and learns there is hope.
Beah watched the war destroy what was once a loving and nurturing community. Adults and elders, highly esteemed in African society, began to fear their own children. He witnessed children killing and setting villages on fire. Sierra Leone was overcome with the culture of war, where violence and camaraderie between soldiers was what mattered.
Eventually, UNICEF rescued Beah and placed him in a rehabilitation camp, where he suffered further trauma from drug withdrawal. After several months, he fled to New York City, where he met his future foster mother.
In the end, Beah leaves readers with a sense of hope, as well as a deep feeling of responsibility as global citizens. Beah transforms a terrible experience into an inspiring story, urging us to take action against the use of child soldiers. I would definitely recommend this book to students and teachers alike.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.