“A Long Way Gone” is actually the second book by Ishmael Beah that I have had the pleasure of reading. I initially fell upon his book “Radiance of Tomorrow” at the beginning of my book journey, and it definitely helped to set the tone in regards to my book choices.
Like many things in the news, boy soldiers was something I heard and read about, but it was such an abstract concept to me. It didn’t sound real, it didn’t sound possible. Furthermore, I lacked the necessary background knowledge on the context of these conflicts that were creating these boy soldiers.
It is a privilege to have been able to sit back and just hear about children being trained to be soldiers by not only rebel groups but the governing bodies of countries. It is a privilege to have been almost totally unaware and uneducated on the plight of people in countries like Sierra Leone. It is a privilege that I try to be aware of and recognize, and books like “A Long Way Gone” and “Radiance of Tomorrow” are instrumental in checking my privilege.
Through “A Long Way Gone”, Ishmael Beah takes boy soldiers out of the abstract and into the realm of reality, giving the term “boy solider” the human faces that have been wiped by such an umbrella term.
There was a bit of controversy regarding this book, primarily because people were skeptical to the actuality of this story. “A Long Way Gone” is intended to be a memoir of Ishmael Beah’s own journey as a child soldier, and there were supposedly conflicts in the timeline. However, regardless of whether or not this story was the true experience of Ishmael Beah, it cannot be denied that he shares with the world a story that must be exposed and shared. He also raises many ethical questions in regards to child soldiers and how they are dehumanized.
Ishmael takes you through the full scope of what being a child soldier entails, including the aftermath. More specifically the rehabilitation that is required and the re-entry into mainstream society.
A lot like “The Memory of Lost Skin”, this book challenged my perceptions of criminality and rehabilitation. With child soldiers, society condemns them and takes away their status as children because of the atrocities they are brainwashed to commit. Nevertheless, at the end of the day these children are STILL children, and if we are to ensure that they do not continue on a violent life course, we need to believe they can be rehabilitated and take the necessary measures to do so. The human brain is most plastic at younger ages, so making efforts to rehabilitate children will help to mitigate the creation of a whole generation of adults that perpetuate violence due to the residual effects of these conflicts.
This is definitely not an easy read, particularly when you realize these are real events that have occurred to thousands of boys in Sierra Leone and other countries. However, if you want to understand what it means to be a boy solider, this would be a good place to start. A good read to accompany “A Long Way Gone” is “What is the What” by Dave Eggers. Compliments well the story of “A Long Way Gone”, and gives a differing perspective, i.e. what happens if you are “fortunate” enough to escape being taken as a child solider. Keep in mind “What is the What” covers an entirely different topic (The Lost Boys of Sudan), but it is essential in helping one realize that all these things are connected and not just isolated events.