|Posted by Michele Zurlo on June 28, 2012 at 12:20 AM|
NonFiction Summer Continues!
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah is the story of a child forced to fight in the Sierra Leone civil war. In this memoir, we follow Ishmael Beah, age 11-15, as he wanders around the country trying to avoid death.
Quotes With Impact:
p. 54: If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die."
p. 70: Every time people come at us with the intention of killing us, I close my eyes and wait for death. Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will completely die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you.
p. 81: Sometimes night has a way of speaking to us, but we almost never listen. The night after we ate the bird was too dark. There were no stars in the sky, and as we walked, it seemed as if the darkness was getting thicker.
I didn't love this book, and I feel badly for saying that. The reality of children being forced into guerilla warfare, addicted to drugs (most unknowingly), and forced to trade their childhood and humanity for a violent, zombie existence is completely horrible. Nobody should have to go through that, yet it happens to kids around the world every day, and many of them have even worse experiences than Beah. I think the main problem is that after reading this, I have no sense of who Ishmael Beah is. The recounting relies on anecdotes and folktales from his childhood. The anecdotes are emotionless tellings of what happened. Of the quotes above, the first two are actually things other people said to Beah, not things he said/wrote himself.
For half the book, he wanders the forests of Sierra Leone. In one chapter, he's conscripted into the army and two years pass. I know that when people are addicted to drugs (they fed him a steady diet of cocaine, unspecified uppers, and marijuana) they experience a dissociative state, so I could rationalize the scant details there. It does pick up when he goes to the rehab center and eventually speaks in front of the UN.
But I'm left wondering why? Why was he chosen to be the spokesperson for child soldiers in Sierra Leone? What was special about him that made him the perfect choice to send to the UN? He was obviously close with people, but that doesn't translate to the reader in any meaningful way. I don't know what motivates Beah. I don't know what's in his heart, and I really wish I did. A Long Way Gone is a sanitized retelling (as violent as it is) with no raw emotionality and therefore no more impact on the reader than a brief news article.
I think most people would probably stumble upon this as required reading for a class. There is plenty to discuss in a social and political context, but there is no real personality present.