A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Context
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah is a heartbreaking story of a boy soldier of an African country. What makes reading more painful is the knowledge that it is actually an autobiography: Ishmael was a combatant during a civil war in Sierra Leone. We see how traumatizing war can be for the minors and how awfully fast they adjust to its realities, becoming soldiers who enjoy killing and torturing others.
Ishmael starts as an ordinary kid, who goes with his friends to participate in a music festival and perform there. He dreams to become a rapper, is obsessed with rap tapes and is constantly practicing to enhance his singing skills. Nothing in him resembles the image of a ruthless soldier he will become.
When the war starts, Ishmael has to flee together with his friends. They witness the atrocities of war and the cruelty of people who aren’t ready to save kids who aren’t theirs. They just try to get back to their relatives and avoid being killed by one or the other side of the conflict. We see how fast the kids have to grow up: dealing with the death of their comrades, choosing to rob people and kill domestic animals - or to starve. When they come to the military camp they are desperate enough to be enlisted as soldiers.
The hardest part of the book is, of course, Ishmael’s military service. We see him as a cruel drug addict, who still manages to combine killing people and boasting that he did it many times with childhood usual activities such as football and watching movies. His personality is slowly degrading and his love to music is the only thing that is left from his previous identity.
The rehabilitation of Ishmael is a hard and painful process both for him and for his United Nations caretaker. To return a traumatized child with a heavy PTSD to his previous state is almost an impossible task and until the very end we can’t be sure that Ishmael will move on from the war experience.
This book is very hard to read, but it is true to the last word. We need to know what is war seen through the eyes of its participants - maybe this knowledge may help us prevent such atrocities in the future and make child soldiers and wars in general history.