Homer's Travels: Book: Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Book: Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone"

I'm not sure you've noticed, and I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but I alternate between fiction and nonfiction.  (actually I have mentioned this before.)  It was time for non-fiction.  I chose Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier".

This is one of those life stories that too few read about, so many should read about, and way too many live.  "A Long Way Gone" is the memoir of a young man, actually only a boy of 12 years, that lost his family to the rebels of Sierra Leone and was 'recruited' into the army at the young age of 13.  Ismael Beah , now 28 years old, recounts his life with war and how he was rescued.

The story is a compelling one.  It is one I was interested in - a story that cannot be adequately told in a short 218 pages. The book predominantly talks of Baeh's separation from his family when the rebels attacked his village and his rescue years later by the United Nations and Non-Government Organizations .  You can tell that Beah has a good memory and attention to detail but you can also tell that his telling of his story is clouded by the emotions the memories invoke.  The part that I was most interested, his life as a child soldier, feels glossed over like he didn't really want to write about it and included a minimum to satisfy his publishers.  I was left wanting more.  I also understand his reluctance to document the atrocities he participated in.

Do these vague voids mean you shouldn't read this book?  Definitely not.  Lacking as it does, it still tells a compelling story of loss, despair, and rescue.  I recommend this book with reservations. 

Note: There is some dispute about the veracity of Baeh's telling of his life story.  True or not, experiences similar to what he writes about do occur and the power of this story should not be diminished.


  1. I've wondered if this would be a good read. I was hesitant anfter seeing it on Oprah.

  2. JaG: It's OK. It's fairly short so if you don't like it, it won't be a big waste of your time. I'd read it.