Many stories have been written about people surviving wars. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier written by Ishmael Beah stands out from many literary pieces, simply because he narrates his own harrowing experiences in vivid detail without affectation. The book is an engrossing account of his own personal experiences of the rigors and challenges of war in West Africa.
What makes the story quite moving is the fact that it clearly narrated in descriptive detail the impact of the war on child-soldiers like himself – including how the viciousness of war transformed him and changed his life forever, and how he somehow managed to redeem himself in the end. Book Review of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier I.
In Ishmael Beah’s book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, there were several instances showing the brutal, sadistic side of young rebels or boy-soldiers who were snatched from their carefree existence to face grueling training and obey stringent rules of army forces, as a way to survive the civil war in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Ishmael Beah recounted, for example, a repugnant incident when “The corporal gave the signal with a pistol shot and I grabbed the man’s head and slit his throat in one fluid motion” (2007, p. 125).
Thrust into a new world where people learned to prove themselves in order to earn their keep or survive, Beah mirrors countless other young soldiers like him around the world who have no other option but to face and endure the perils of war, even if in the process they leave behind their wholesome, obedient character. In my experience, I have seen many young soldiers go off to war in exchange for government’s financial support which they badly need for their families, only to be hardened by merciless encounters in the battlefield.
Another example showing Beah’s transformation from a gentle boy into an unforgiving, vicious soldier was when he narrated he and his war comrades’ treatment of captured rebel-attackers: “we tied them and stabbed their legs with bayonets… we kicked them to shut them up” (Beah, 2007, p. 151). Having witnessed the dark side of warfare, which entailed the killing of innocent civilians and even babies, Beah’s sadistic behavior may be said to have been shaped by the harsh and desperate circumstances that ensnared him. II. It is downright true that “the war had destroyed the enjoyment of the very experience of meeting people” (Beah, 2007, p.
48) as gleaned by Ishmael Beah, and this fact finds its way in some other portions of the book. For example, Beah realized early on, while cowering for safety and trekking from village to village, and also later on when he unwittingly became part of the war’s terror campaign, that among the consequences of taking part in the civil war, “people stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy” (Beah, 2007, p. 37). He further noted the hesitation or doubt evident even in people who knew boy-soldiers like him, and how they tended to assess or weigh how they would relate to or trust him (Beah, 2007, p.
37). As a boy barely in is teens who would have been eager to make and cultivate new acquaintances, Beah likewise expressed during the early part of the book the brute character and sheer terror and force inflicted by young people like him on other people held as captives. He wrote, for instance, how a boy’s face bled when “a rebel pushed him to join us by smashing him in the face with the butt of his gun” (Beah, 2007, p. 34). In ordinary circumstances, he may have shown greater understanding, or better appreciated meeting these new people traipsing into his life, had he encountered them in a less vulgar manner.
The war understandably destroys the experience of meeting people, which can be amiable under normal circumstances. When people are caught up in the grim realities of fending for themselves to stay alive, enduring pain, hunger, and a languishing soul, there is hardly time for elevating social interaction, except those cultivated with fellow war comrades. III. The shift in Ishmael Beah’s character took place gradually. First he witnessed the atrocities committed against fellow human beings, including civilians helplessly caught in the killings and attacks.
He and his friends likewise encountered the sheer terror not only of being separated from their families but of near-brushes with death. Last but not the least, he endured the physical rigors of running for safety and sustenance and trudging from one village to another, while also noting places “where we had spent most of our hunger days” (Beah, 2007, p. 36). Slowly but surely, Ishmael Beah found himself changing stance, from an observer and victim of the cruel realities of war, to a perpetrator of violence, when he realized one ting mattered while out in the field – survival.
The realization dawned on him when he figured that proving his worth to the forces that snagged him provided a measure of security. As he expressed, “I stood there and felt special holding my gun and felt special, because I was part of something and I was not running from anyone anymore” (Beah, 2007, p. 124). As a young soldier, Beah felt that from being reduced to nothing, he had acquired something to hold on to, even if that meant slitting people’s throats with his bare hands (Beah, 2007, p. 125).
Beah and his companions really had no choice in shifting from being mere observers and victims to perpertrators of violence, because when war involves a rotten type of politics – either you take part in the killings and brute force inflicted on the enemy, or perish and meet your downfall. Beah and his companions were lucky because even if they had sustained major physical injuries compounded by emotional trauma, they managed to stay alive. In essence, they had little option to be enmeshed in the dark side of warfare, simply because in their mind, it was how they would survive. IV.
The remarks staffers and professionals who aided Ishamel Beah in his journey to recovery and to regaining his humanity that the things that transpired were not his fault and that he’ll get through it (Beah, 2007, p. 151) is not readily accepted by Beah at the beginning, because the wounds of war were still fresh and the emotional scars have not healed. The transitory stage was shown by the manner with which he showed irritation from merely hearing the voices of staffers in the rehabilitation center where he was taken. He recounted how he “would punch the wall” (Beah, 2007, p. 138) or decide to break windows (Beah, 2007, p.
140), which reflected how the war damaged him emotionally. Over time, though, when the compassionate staffers and nurses offered sincere care and friendship, he showed faith that indeed, he will get better or heal and that all the horrible things that occurred during the war were largely not his fault. He was just thrust into it. V. Recounting the tale of being made to choose by a monkey whose parent one will choose to sacrifice, Ishmale Beah expressed, “I concluded to myself that If I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament (2007, p.
218). The message reverberates throughout A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, as shown by the violent physical assaults and killings, the sadistic tendencies of rebel leaders or army forces, and other unfortunate circumstances and “obligations” foisted by the war commandants on boy-soldiers like Beah. Though it would appear from the tale (which he remembered a friend’s grandfather relate) that people were presented a choice, in truth, there are little or no options whatsoever for those ensnared by war.
There is no way out, if one wants to survive, but to sacrifice personal comfort and, in most cases, principles too. It can also be gleaned from the story that African village life may be close-knit, warm and nurturing especially for young folks, but then certain societal forces and realities may force people to sever ties and abandon the comforts of home, risk their lives in many ways, and venture into the unknown. War, with all its horrors, can pounce on a serene community and pitilessly reduce it to complete wreckage.
In addition, while a civil war may be one type of war, there is another type of war waged by individuals, and it is to find themselves or make themselves whole again, after being battered by circumstances beyond their control, as exemplified by Ishmael Beah. In his case, whichever way he turned, there were obstacles and challenges to be hurdled, and he had to take the difficult path, sustain wounds, learn his lessons and come out of the entire experience whole again. Reference Beah, I. (2007). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. United Kingdom: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
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