Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Long Way Gone

I read this book a couple of months ago when I was on vacation in India and I didn’t get a chance to review it then. I read it for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. My read from Sierra Leone. I am glad I made little notes while reading. Now all that I have to do is compile those little notes and get my review done. I hate it when I fall back on my reviews.
It has been over 2 months since I finished the book and I have read many books after that. But the memories of the book are still strong in me. I must say that “A Long Way Gone” is a pretty powerful book. I still shudder when I think about it.
A Long Way Gone is a memoir – a true life story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone. A little boy who’s innocent happy boy life which is spent in rapping and having a good time with friends is suddenly stolen from him. He is suddenly exposed to the brutal way and made to run from place to place in search of peace and solace, in search of the family he had lost, and away from the attacking rebels. He starts off with his friends and loses them in the middle.
The kinds of things he experiences and witnesses are horrible. I am wishing I didn’t even have to read about it let alone experience such things. People getting killed by the guerilla forces, being forced to run away from their homes, from the villages that they have known all their lives, see their loved ones die in their arms, lose friends and family, etc- all this when he was 12 years old.  
Eventually, Beah finds himself in a village controlled by the national army. He thinks he is safe here since the army would protect him from the attacking rebels. But soon, he is asked to join and fight for the national army with a bunch of boys as young and as untrained as he was. Fueled by the atrocities he has witnessed, he readily joins the army with no thoughts on what it might do to him. He fights for the army for two years and in this period changes completely. He becomes a cold blooded murderer with no respect for life. He lives in a perpetual haze created by the vast quantities of marijuana and cocaine he consumes. He forgets that his life was once differentt...and he was once different.
Unlike many young boys who fight in wars like this around Africa and around the world, Ishmael Beah finds a saving grace. He is taken to a rehab facility organized by UNICEF for boys like him involved in the war. He slowly and painfully is made to overcome his drug addiction. He comes in contact with humans, with the society and slowly starts to realize that the kind of life he has been living for the past few years is not normal.
He finds an uncle to live with for a while and then is adopted by a lady in the United States.
Beah wrote this book when he was 26 years old, after having gone to school in NYC. But from this book you can see how those years torment him through his life. One thing that is sad about the book is that though it ends happily, you close the book knowing that not every boy soldier’s story has a happy ending. Not every boy managed to survive the war and there are many who still live on in the war ridden countries as cold blooded, drug induced men killing in frenzy.
Coming to the writing style, I realized before long that the intention of the book was not to contribute to literature.. it was written to expose the lives of millions of boy soldiers around the world. The writing comes off as insensitive and harsh many times but I guess that makes the whole thing more real – no lacy details, no frills! I did think that there were many unanswered questions when I finished reading the book. But I can understand why Beah decided to keep his book the way it is now. It is a short, sharp pain; A pain that you won’t forget soon; A pain that will make you be thankful everyday for the happy, protected life you live; A pain that remind you that not everyone in the world is as lucky as you are; A pain that will remind you that not everyone gets to live they want to live;
I would highly recommend this book to everyone. In fact I think it is necessary to read such books and become aware of the lives that some people are forced to live. It is a very touching tale. I must warn you that it is not going to be an easy read though.
If you want to know more about the author, listen to his interviews, read excerpts from the book, etc… you can find it all here in the book’s website.
Reviews by other bloggers : Trish
If you have already read this, I would love to see what you thought of it. Please post a comment with a link to the relevant post in your blog.


Lezlie said...

I know I'll read this eventually. It always looks so interesting. And I agree with you. Books like this are good to read sometimes to get a better world view of things we would otherwise never really know much about.


Ramya said...

yeah.. you definitely have to read this sometime lezlie.. it totally changes your opinion about everything in the world!

Dar said...

Ramya, I've heard from a few people that this is a difficult read but one well worth it if only, like you say, to make us aware of what can and does go on in our world.

Trish said...

This one does stick with you, huh? I read it at the beginning of April and it still haunts me. I've read several books about Africa this year--fiction and non-fiction and I am so heartbroken after I finish each story.

Ramya said...

@dar - hmm.. i never really thought of it as a difficult least in terms of writing and language.. but yeah.. it was extremely hard in terms of concept. there were time i wanted to put the book down and NEVER pick it up again because i felt soo bad about the things i was reading..

@trish - thanks for the link to your review..and yeah! this one totally sticks with you!! i read a couple of books during my india trip and i am trying to re-construct my reviews from little notes and i realized that i remembered a lot only about this one.. the rest of the books are just vague memories!

Naveen_an_INDIAN said...

Hi Ramya... Even I love books a lot.. I got my own library in which there are 400+ hardbinded books and 1000+ ebooks.. If you have a collection of ebooks plz forward me on to this address

violetcrush said...

I have read and loved this book. In fact this is on the top 10 fav. books I have read. I cannot recommend it enough.

Shana said...

I've wanted to read this one for some time now.

I enjoyed your review, Ramya.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

This one has been on my TBR forever and I just picked up a used copy. Now that I actually own it I hope to be reading it soon. Hopefully, before the end of the year.

Ramya said...

@violet - welcome to my blog. i know what you mean by "top 10 fav" book.. i can totally agree with you on that!

@shana - oh yeah.. you must get to it fast.. it sure is an amazing book!

@natasha - can't wait for you to finish this and post your review!

Anna said...

You know a book is powerful if it stays with you for a couple of months after reading it. That's how I'm feeling about Tears of the Desert, which I'm reading now. These books broaden our minds and get us to think about the world in a different way. I think they are very necessary.


Ramya said...

i so badly want to read tears of the desert.. i tried requesting it in LT but didnt get it.. shall get my hands on it soon!:)

Corinne said...

I've had this one on my TBR list for ages - I really appreciate your review. I thought it looked really good :)I'm hoping Bethany does her challenge again next year and that'll force me to finally go get it :)

Anna said...

Ramya, if you're interested, I posted my review of Tears of the Desert. If you get a chance to read this one, I'd love to hear what you think.


Ramya said...

@corinne - i soo agree! i read soo many books that i wouldn't have normally read thanks to bethany's challenge.. i am hoping she hosts it next year as well!:)

@anna - i've been hearing so much about Tears of the Desert.. can't wait to get my hands on a copy sometime.. shall definitely let you know my comments once i read it!:)

Laughing Stars said...

I thought this was a wonderful book, the kind that can shift your perspective on the world. It also inspired me to think more deeply about violence in general, especially how it affects children.