Child soldier tells his story

REVIEW: “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” by Ishmael Beah (2007)


I like nonfiction in general, but I love memoirs. There is an intimacy about them that can’t be captured in nonfiction. Ishmael Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” is like that.

Beah’s story in his own voice is much more powerful than it would be written by a journalist or biographer. Beah, who got caught in the crossfire of a war in Sierra Leone, digs into the part of his memory that most people like to keep locked up for good. He pulls out horrifying stories of being drugged as a child soldier and brainwashed into committing violent acts during a war he doesn’t understand.

The book is worth reading because it educates one about the appalling practice of recruiting boys as soldiers in many parts of the world. But ultimately it is a good book because it is about a boy. Beah’s story is a simple story about a boy who likes rap music who becomes a soldier and how that boy grows beyond his trama. It is an encouraging testament to the possibilities for change in a violent world.

Other similar recommended books are:

  • “Strength in What Remains,” by Tracy Kidder (2009). Deo, a Burundian medical student, escapes ethnic violence in his country and enters the U.S. illegally. Deo goes from a squatter in New York City to a Columbia medical school student to a founder of a Burundian clinic.
  • “What is the What,” by Dave Eggers (2006). Written as a fictionalized memoir, “What is the What” follows the life of Deng, a Sudanese boy whose will to survive guides him through Southern Sudan during a war. Deng’s journey goes through what seem like endless perils until he eventually reaches the U.S. as a refugee. There he must overcome a new set of obstacles.

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