A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2018-08-23 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 1 user ratings

"It was one of the more incredible books I've ever read. The book is the true story of the author's life in Sierra-Leone, and the story of many other children swept up in the war there. When the author is 12-years-old his village is destroyed and his family lost. He wanders for years, sometimes with groups of other boys, sometimes alone, trying to avoid the rebels and to find a safe place to exist. Eventually swept into the war, hopped up on drugs and handed guns, the boys find themselves soldiers. (I think that's all of the plot I can give you without giving more spoilers than are implied by the title)
The book is brilliantly written. Beah is an amazing writer, his writing is heart wrenching in its beauty and his astounding ability to clearly analyze his own emotions and responses to the events of his life as well as writing with astounding clarity and amazing imagery about his country and the events happening around him.
The book, of course, has many incredibly sad, disturbing, and depressing elements. But I think what makes it so powerful is the shimmer of hope that laces through it. You know, from reading the back of the book, that Beah makes it out--he survives, and not only survives, but becomes an incredibly productive member of society working worldwide with human rights organizations focused on the plight of children living in war zones. But in addition to the light at the end of the tunnel, Beah gives us wonderful glimpses into the beauty of his country and culture. Through memories of his early childhood, his family, his life before the war found him, we see a powerful and moral society. Too often books about Africa seem to assume it has always been this way, that war is all they know. Beah shows us another side of Africa, which makes the tragedy of war all the more tragic.
" said.

"In the 1990s Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa, found itself sinking into a very bloody internal war between corrupt government soldiers and armed rebels. It lasted at least ten years, and while now the country is stable and has a booming tourism industry, during the war countless innocent civilians were slaughtered and hundreds of boys were recruited by both sides.

Ishmael is twelve when the rebels arrive at his small mining town in the south-west, not so far from the ocean. He is with his older brother, Junior, and their friends at a nearby town when the attack happens, and he is separated from his parents and younger brother, never to see them again. People are mowed down as they run, fleeing one town for another with the rebels not far behind.

So begins a long journey for Ishmael as he tries to survive and stay alive. Food is hard to come by, and he has so many near-misses with death - not just at the hands of the rebels, but other villagers who are suspicious of him - that if this weren't a memoir you would never believe it. More than once, the tapes of American rap music save his life. Ironic, huh?

He is recruited into the government's army, given an AK-47 and becomes addicted to several kinds of drugs, including cocaine, that the lieutenant hands out. He hardly sleeps, has loads of energy, and his migraines have stopped. He becomes a junior sergeant and leads his small unit of boys - some of these recruited boys are as young as 7 and can barely lift their guns - into laying ambushes and attacks on villages. At one point, he encounters a rebel group of boys just like his, and like all the other squirmishes it is a fight to the death.

A Long Way Gone tells Ishmael's story, from the moment his home is destroyed, to being rehabilitated, representing other child soldiers at a UN conference and finally finding a new home in America. It is an interesting read on many levels. It is at the same time both simplistic and complex, distant and intense, coldly factual and emotionally harrowing. Throughout it all I kept reminding myself, "He's twelve"; "He's thirteen" and so on. Sometimes Bael's writing has the mature tone of a reflective adult, but generally the style is reminiscent of a report a 15-year-old might make for school. While this is a simplistic way to write anything, it could also be the only way he could write it. It is fact, not embellishment. He was deeply scarred and traumatised by all the things he'd seen and done during the war, and that's not something you can write fancifully about. It also renders it coldly brutal in its accuracy.

Some people have complained that if it had delved into the political etc. situation, the circumstances behind the war, it would have been more interesting. I disagree, though it certainly made me curious about what was going on. This is not that type of memoir, and if that's what they were expecting then they have some very strange expectations of former child soldiers. On the contrary, this is the side of the war you usually don't get to see. It humanises it, in a way, and desensitises it. It's one thing to see this kind of thing on the telly, another to be pulled into a personal story as sad and frightening as this one. The very fact of the often unemotional writing (not dry or dull, but with a protective layer to shield the author) makes it all the more believable and heart-breaking.

His speech at the UN conference brought tears to my eyes - not because it was poetic or profound or a great piece of oratory skill, but because it was straight-forward, from the mouth of a child who had lived through a kind of hell. His experiences didn't exactly make him older - not at first - but they certainly made him wild for a time. Bael doesn't dwell too much on his experiences as a soldier, it is more a balanced account of how he got into such a situation, what it did to him, and how he got out of it. Even then, he doesn't really explain how he shook off the mentality of a child soldier and became "rehabilitated". He also doesn't explain how he made it to America the second time - here I, perhaps suspiciously, feel US immigration wouldn't want that in a book; or maybe Bael just didn't feel it had any relevance. Still, I was taken rather by surprised when the story stopped.

In short, A Long Way Gone is a powerful, visceral account of what happens when you give a scared but resourceful boy a big fucking gun and teach him how to kill people and be proud of it. It also shows with painful clarity the truly pointless aspects of this kind of war - of any war, true, but this kind especially, where those involved lose their sense of humanity and feel nothing for killing innocent bystanders, or burning people in their homes, or raping, looting and terrifying, all in the name of freeing the country from someone else doing exactly the same things. It makes no sense. It is hell on earth.
" said.

" Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone tells the story of himself, a young teen in the midst of political upheaval, where rebels everywhere are killing many of the innocent civilians of Africa. The book is set in Sierra Leone, where many African rebels were causing chaos at every town they passed by. Hoping to survive and maybe reunite with his family, Ishmael runs around Sierra Leone, where rebels hope to recruit young Africans like Ishmael himself. Ishmael wanders around Sierra Leone, examining the paranoia that the war has caused for the people, who usually are very peaceful, but at last gets caught by a rebel and forced to become a boy soldier, exposing himself to the savagery of war. The book exposes us to the savagery of war, which causes Ishmael, a previous happy-go-lucky person, into a killing machine, unappalled by the actions he does to innocent civilians.

In one memorable moment, after leaving Mattru Jong, Ishmael’s grandmother’s homeland, Ishmael and his group of friends; Junior, Mohomad, and Tulloi; all head home with news that it has been attacked. While walking the six miles home, they hear the sound of a car, believing it to be a rebel, they ide behind a bush. The vehicle stops right in front of them, and the driver vomits blood, crying at the fact that he barely survived the attacks, his arms bleeding as if he had been shot not so long ago. A woman comes, also bloody, and asks for him to stand and opens up the doors of the car, revealing the bodies of his whole family, lifeless with their blood all over the ceiling and seats. Later, a man runs with the body of his son in his arms, rushing to the nearest hospital, uttering the words, “I will get you to the hospital, my boy, and everything will be fine” repeatedly, clinging onto the false sense of hope that kept him running. Lastly, a women walks towards Ishmael with a body on her back, shot dead as the women was running away. She halts at the center of the road, removing her child, a girl with her eyes open and an interrupted innocent smile on her face. With the bullet barely sticking out of the baby, the mother clings onto her child and rocks her, unable to shed tears or utter a single word due to fear and shock.

Ultimately, the story of Ishmael is a story of the transformation of a boy, venturing away from his bare and innocent self, turning into an emotionless machine, hurting everyone and everything around him, and finally reverting back to normal through the kind care of people. It all adds up to the tale of the savagery of war, an element that can affect anyone which tells us that not only is war terrible as a whole, but terrible all the way down to the individual level. A Long Way Gone tells that very well, telling us that war causes loneliness and with loneliness comes the need to have revenge, causing people to blinded by rage.

People are apathetic to issues outside their own environment, choosing to believe that it doesn’t really affect them. A Long Way Gone shows the people what life is like for them, and how they god through ordeals and how bad their situation is and because of that, I recommend it to anyone that wants to open their eyes to problems outside their community. This book is an eye opener for it shows how horrific the war is in Africa and how it effects the person, causing Ishmael to go from a young boy who loves rap music, into a killing machine while he works for the army as a boy soldier. It shows the terrors of war and that sometimes there is no happy ever after, exemplified when Ishmael never actually reunites with his father, mother and his brother, Junior. It talks about the experiences of being a boy soldier, which introduces Ishmael to the cruel side of the world, making him execute many people and introducing him to drugs. But it also shows of how he got out of the loop, becoming his innocent self once again, with the help of a nurse and UNICEF, and spreading his story to people all over the world to make sure something is done so that no child has to go through what he went through.

From reading this book, I learned that life isn’t fair and that I should feel blessed for the childhood I have here in San Jose. People have it worse in other parts of the world, not even having enough resources to feed yourself, let alone your whole family. We’re not always under constant threat of having rebels come into our city and burning it to the ground here in San Jose, but in other parts of the world, children are growing up every day under these circumstances, living in constant fear that maybe tomorrow everything around them could gone. This book has shown me that San Jose isn’t the only city in the world and that there are other places that have it much worse, influencing me to be blessed for having a peaceful childhood, where the only fear I had was the monster under my bed, not the fear of wondering when the next meal would be.

This book made me imagine brutal things, the vivid imagery of people dying gruesome deaths, blood spattering everywhere. Countless nights after reading this book I have had these images in my dreams, with the way that Ishmael describes the events burned into my head. I was given the feeling of devastation, being happy one minute and torn with grief the next, as if I was on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. This book drew me in, placing me as Ishmael in his experiences, making me feel as if I was the one facing all of these ordeals and truly experiencing what Ishmael had to go through. It made me feel a wide array of emotions, from heartbreak to joy, laughter to sadness. Throughout all these emotions, I couldn’t put this book down, piquing my interest with every word of the book. I’ve probably read a handful of books in my life, with this one being the one that opened my eyes to the problems of the world and taught me how to be blessed for and cherish everything I have.
" said.

" What an incredibly sad story. This book went full circle as it covered the life of a little boy in war-torn Sierra Leone. It starts out with him happily tucked between two families that love him, then he is ripped out of that little piece of reality . This story covers how the limits one sets for himself in life can be eroded away by life experiences that pick away at that line, blurring it, especially when survival and safety are on the line. Such tragedy. " said.

"الكتاب مؤلم جداُ و هذا طبيعي كونه يتناول مواضيع كالحرب الأهلية و تجنيد الأطفال،وما يجعل تلك المواضيع أكثر ألماً هو تناولها في قصص فردية بعيداً عن الأحصاءات.

الكتاب يعرض في البداية لصور من نشأة أسماعيل و شغفه بالمويسقى واللعب في جو أسري هادئ ،لكن تصدمه الحرب التي تفرقه عن أبويه و أخيه الأصغر و كل رفاقه بأستثناء أخيه الأكبر و أثنين من أصدقائه سيشاركونه الهرب من قرية إلى قرية تحت وطأة الحرب الأهلية و مجازرها المفجعة قبل أن يفترق عنهم مرغماُ في أحدى تلك الفاجعات،ليواصل الهرب منفرداُ مدة قصيرة قبل أن تجمعه الصدفة برفاق قدامى ليواصلوا الفرار لا من المتمردين و مجازرهم فقط بل و كذلك من الناس العادية حينما يحطون في قراهم فكما يقول أسماعيل
(the worst about civil war is that it makes every one a possible enemy even a child like me)
و لكن عندما تضعه الصدف على بعد أمتار من لقاء أسرته يفاجأ بهجوم جديد ينتزعهم من بين يديه من قبل أن يراهم...يالا عبثية الأقدار!!!

و يتواصل الهرب و تستمر المطاردة قبل أن يحظى بشئ من الأمن في قرية صغيرة تحت سيطرة مسلحين موالين للجيش لكن تأبى الأقدار أن تلين فترميهم بدفعات متوالية من المتمردين تحاول أنتزاع البلدة فيلجأ المسلحين لمنح كل ذكر في القرية السلاح ليقاتل بعد تدريب قاسي نزع من صغارهم و كبارهم كل تورع عن الدم
(visualize the enemy,the rebels who killed your parents,your family & those who are responsible for all that happened to you)
لينغمس اسماعيل و غيره من الصبية بعدها في الدم و يخوض عامين من الحروب الدموية جرفت حتى ذكرياته,ويلاحظ أن الجزء المتعلق بحياة الكاتب ككجندي هو الأصغر على الأطلاق برغم أهميته المفرطة لكن لا لوم هنا فمن مر بمثل تلك الأحداث بالتأكيد سيحاول أن يقلل الحديث فيها ما أستطاع...من منا يرغب في التفكير في الجحيم؟!!

ثم تتحسن الأحوال تدريجياُ مع أنضمام أسماعيل مجبراُ لبرنامج تأهيل تحتضنه الأمم المتحدة لأعادة تأهيل المجندين الأطفال و نخوض معه تجربة بيوت أعادة التأهيل و مأسي الذكريات و الخوف التي عاصرها هؤلاء القتلة الصغار لمسح الدم عن قلوبهم و أعطائهم الفرصة ليعودوا بشراُ من جديد.

أحد أكثر السير الذاتية التي قرأتها الماُ على الأطلاق.
" said.

" How horrific! The amount of trauma both incurred and inflicted is immeasurable. What these boys have experienced simply to have their needs met is no way to live. Ishmael is the exception not the rule. 2017 Lenten nonfiction Buddy Reading Challenge book # 37 " said.

"I listened to this on audio, and I adored the author's accent. I struggled to really emphathize with Ishmael for the first half of the book as the horrors of what was happening with him was so far removed from what I know. I can't even imagine children having to deal with these situations - as a victim, and as a perpetrator. The section that dealt with the rehabilitation of the child soldiers were my favorite section in the book. I admire the people who have the heart and the guts to do these amazing jobs. " said.

"الكتاب يجذبك من أول صفحة لآخر صفحة .. لقد صحبني الكاتب إشمائيل بيه معه في رحلته الشاقة الطويلة .. هذه الرحلة التي لن تملك سوى أن تدمع عيناك معه في بعض صفحاتها .. و بدلاً عنه في البعض الآخر !!! رحلة تأخذك لجمال طبيعة أفريقيا .. تحديداً هنا في سيراليون .. جمال أحراشها .. ونقاء أهلها .. الترابط المجتمعي المفقود في المدن الضخمة .. ثم تفاجئ معه ببدئ هجوم المتمردين و بدء الحرب .. ستُفاجئ و كأنك جزء من الحكاية في رحلة شاقة على النفس .. هذه الحرب التي تبدأ فجأة في عصر من الظلم الذي لم يكن يتصور أن يُقلب لحرب أهلية نوعاً ! .. هذا الطريق الطويل الذي سيسلكه إشمائيل حتى يُجند ثم تأخذه اليونيسيف لتعيد تأهيله ثم يعود ليسكن مع عمه بعد مقتل أسرته المباشرة كلها في الحرب، ثم ينجو فيه في النهاية و يستطيع الفرار من سيراليون بعد أن غرقت عاصمتها في الدماء .. و يتسائل في وسط رحلته لماذا يموت كل من حوله إلا هو !!! أعتقد الإجابة كانت في أنه قُدر له أن ينجو كي يكتب لنا هذا الكتاب ! هذه الرواية و هذه المذكرات !!!

ستفقه من الكتاب كم تكون ممارسات الجيش الوطنية لا أخلاقية و أنها في بعض الأحيان بل و كثيراً تشبه تصرفات المتمردين .. لتفاجئ بإنقلاب على الرئيس المنتخب يتحد فيه الجيش الوطني مع المتمردين بهذه اللا أخلاقية المشتركة و يعيثون فساداً هنا و هناك ليصل للعاصمة فريتاون بعد هذا الإنقلاب !

صياغة الكتاب ممتازة تعبيره عن المشاعر الإنسانية مرهفاً و رائعاً .. و نهاية الكتاب في نظري بهذه الحكاية الفلكلورية التي تُحكىَ في سيراليون كانت النهاية المُثلىَ ..

هناك أيضاً في آخر الكتاب جدول زمني وضعه كان فكرة رائعة للتعرف على تاريخ الصراع و بدأه و دور المجتمع الدولي متمثلاً في الأمم المتحدة و ما إلىَ ذلك.

لن أحرق الأحداث فالكتاب في نظري واجب القراءة .. فجميعنا ننسىَ أفريقيا .. نعتقد أن الشرق الأوسط و صراعه مع القوى العظمى هو مركز الكون ! و ننسىَ إخواتنا هناك في أفريقيا !!! ننسىَ هؤلاء الذين يعانون مثلنا من سطوة القوىَ العظمىَ بشكل أو بآخر أو تجاهل مقصود لهم بشكل أو بآخر !!!

هذا الكتاب حقاً مهم .. و ما حققه من شهرة عالمية أمر جيد جداً حتى تكون أفريقيا بإنقلاباتها العسكرية و ويلاتها في ذهن البعض و لو قليلاً.

أما عن ملاحظاتي و أخذي عليه فهي بسيطة و كلها متعلقة بالتدجين .. و دور اليونيسيف و الأمم المتحدة في هذه العملية .. خلق إنسان صالح في نظرهم يشرب الكوكاكولا .. يتكلم عن جميع الأديان و كل العجيب فيها دون التحيز لدينه !!! الكتاب سيشعرك بأن طرفي الحرب مخطئين دون إعطاء أي إجابات أو رأي واضح في الحادث ! (لمن مثلي لا يعرفون تاريخ الصراع في سيراليون فستستشف بعض الإجابات في النهاية من الجدول الزمني) .

عملية تدجين إشمائيل و من مثله ستفهم من جملة في بداية الكتاب و هو يشكر أحدهم قائلاً: إلىَ ذكرى والتر شوير؛ لكرمه و مشاعره المتعاطفة، و لأنه علمني أن أكون رجلاً متحضراً.
" said.

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