Sunday, December 29, 2013

Library Reads: Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

It's true that the year that Beah was brought into being a child soldier doesn't match the year that it did start on record. Looking outside of that, and just reading this story as the focus of the review I think the author has created quite a brutal portrayal of what it was like up till the years he was able to find refuge. Also, this story doesn't even read as a guy trying to be the voice of what is going on in Africa. It would have been more helpful to read up on what was happening in that area of the world before reading just because he only goes into how his perspective was and what he lived through, and the history aspect is there, but small.

Summary: Ishmael Beah was only twelve when he fled from his village along with a few friends to avoid the attacks. He lost touch with his family as the war raged, and found himself fleeing from village to village to survive. Along with the war came the mistrust people there felt toward each other as well. This made it particularly difficult for Beah to find a place there as most villagers didn't trust any males. What would happen would be a four year struggle from being a young boy on the run, to being a child soldier, to now a 25 year old living in New York City.

Characters: You have a lot of characters in the story, and you do grow attach to them, but mostly because they are seen through Ishmael's eyes. You feel the pain of being torn away from his family or when his friends are drawn into being soldiers as he is. Ishmael doesn't avoid sharing his emotions or the graphic depictions of what he experienced making his losses all that more real, along with the findings of another family as he moved out of being a child soldier. The people feel real, and Ishmael's story resonates with people, particularly the many who have lived through what he has.

Writing: The writing gives a lot of description and some emotion. I guess I was shocked that there wasn't more emotion in the book. Beah writes very well, he conveys what he witnessed with a lot of detail that makes it vivid for the reader, but I guess there was never a moment where this book almost got me to crying, or feeling more emotion, which was something that I thought I would feel while reading this book. Even if the reader is aware that Beah lives he still loses a lot of people during this time. Perhaps it was also the brevity of the novel as well. It doesn't allow you a lot of time to grow with the characters he meets. I think near the end he does flashbacks well with his rehabilitation.

Plot: The book builds well from the beginning where we have Ishmael is just a young boy and planning a talent show with his friends to one where he is thrown into this adult situation around the age of twelve where he will be joining an army. There are also some developments I wouldn't spoil because they contribute further to a shocking situation, and how hopeless it was for children in this area. The story builds toward an ending we know we can expect if we know the book is about the author, but I felt he still could have tugged on the heart strings a bit more.

A Long Way Gone is a perspective of a reality happening in the world right now. You have a nice graph at the back to try to detail the history and how it led up to the point it is now, but I felt that should have been somewhere near the beginning just to give a reader who isn't as familiar with the situation a stronger grounding for what was happening. Still it's good writing and an inspiring story.

Rating 8 of 10.

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