Saturday, May 22, 2010

Memoirs of a boy soldier

~ Tell us the title: A Long Way Gone

~ Who penned this work?: Ishmael Beah
~ How did this piece find it's way to your nightstand?: My sister gave it to me for my 25th birthday.  It got lost in boxes during my packing and moving, and patiently waited for my eyeballs to see it again.  

~ Number of pages: 229

~ Time passed from start to finish?: Three days

~ Describe the cover: A small boy walks, staring at the ground, on a dirt road, wearing green flip flops with holes in the soles and a gun slung over his shoulder.

~ In what section of the bookstore would a reader find this?: Memoir, Biography

~ Summary of the basic plot: From back cover: At the age of twelve, Ishmael Beah fled attacking rebels in Sierra Leone and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence.  By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.  At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at this rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal. 

~ Background information on the story/author: From inside: Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980.  He moved to the United States in 1998 and finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York.  He graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.  He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO) at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, and many other NGO panels on children affected by war.  He is also the head of the Ishmael Beah Foundation, which is dedicated to helping former child soldiers reintegrate into society and improve their lives.  His work has appeared in VespertinePress and LIT magazine.  He lives in Brooklyn. 

~ What did you think of it? (your general response, what you liked or didn't like, what you learned, anything else you want to share about it): Wow. Yet again, a memoir written by a child of war has blown me away.  This book, like many others, includes a map in the front, which really helps to put the story in context for me.  Only 4 years older than me, I can relate much better to the timeline and cultural references as well.  There is also a list at the back of the book with a succinct history of the country.  I have learned more about world history from reading memoirs such as this than I ever learned in school.  Several things stand out to me that I wasn't expecting.  First, the writing is clear & concise, yet beautiful & evocative.  Much of the story is written with the voice of the child he was at the time, which I find notable.  He didn't write the story as an adult looking back, but rather as the part of him that's still that child, remembering things as they happened.  I was blown away by the things Ishmael experienced.  It's incomprehensible, especially when you consider the parallels in time.  It's easy to think of these stories as happening far in the past, in a wholly different place and time, but Ishmael was killing his first person when I was learning about Lewis and Clark in 4th grade.  He was completely robbed of his childhood, and the unfairness in that is striking.  For some reason, I assumed that his rehabilitation had taken place in the US (shame on me for that), and was surprised that it took place in his own country.  After the joy of realizing that he had an uncle in Freetown that would take him in, I was furious with what became of the situation a few years later, feeling that Ishmael had simply been through too much already.  I also felt slightly angry at the intro, where it calmly states that he moved to the US in 1998, when in fact he fled from war for the second time, constantly in fear and unsure whether he would survive. 

~ Which page was your favorite? Share why: Page 200.  Ishmael was selected to come to the United States to speak about his experiences, and found a group of fellow children and adults who cared for him and became very close with him.  As he is leaving, everyone bursts into tears and says goodbye.  The closing to the page weighed on my mind.  He said: "I was sad to leave, but I was also pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone.  Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world."

~ If the story was made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?  I have no idea. 

~ Share a quote that was worth reading twice. Explain why: "I walked behind the coffin, the sound of my footsteps clinging to my heart."   During the time period when Ishmael was a soldier, the children soldiers were drugged with cocaine and other drugs (another thing I was completely shocked by) to keep them energized and numb their emotions.  The contrast between that time of his life and how much he FELT when this quote happened was astounding.

~ Choose your rating:
          - Changed. My. Life.
          - I laughed, I cried, I want you to read it
          - A definite page-turner
          - Good to check out but don't spend the cash.
          - Why did I waste my weekend on this?
          - A disgrace to paper everywhere

~ Flip to page 2, 22, or 202. Share the 7th sentence on the page: "But on the first day of school in Freetown, all the students sat apart from us, as if Mohamed and I were going to snap any minute and kill someone."

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I loved this book; as a History major I fell in love with memoirs.
    It was heartwrenching and eyeopening, and it drew me in right away.