When Ishmael was 12, he fled rebels who attacked his village and killed his parents during the civil war in Sierra Leone. When he was 13 Ishmael was conscripted into the governments army where for three years be fought against the rebels and committed some very horrific acts. By the age of 16 he was pulled out of the war by UNICEF where he was rehabilitated.
This is one of those memoirs that should be required reading – primarily as a lesson that war is not as glamorous as our society likes to make it out to be. Many of the things that Beah did while he was a soldier were terrible – and what even makes his actions even worse is that the murders he committed were done to people much like himself; kids caught up in a war they did not understand.
My primary issue with this book is that despite being rehabilitated, I did not get much of a sense that Beah felt much remorse for what he did. He talks about his time with UNICEF, his trip to the United Nations, his adopted family, and finally his escape from Sierra Leone as the war essentially follows him into the capital city. But through all of this, Beah doesn’t ever mention whether he felt any remorse for his killings. He buried people alive, participated in a contest to see who could kill a prisoner of war the quickest, and cut the throats of numerous other prisoners – not to mention the many other atrocities he participated in.
And somehow he just ‘moved on’ from all of this. This aspect is what I find the most difficult to comprehend and the primary issue I have with this book. The part that ‘stuck’ with me the most.
If you’ve read A Long Way Gone please leave a comment – did I gloss over Beah talking about his remorse towards the people he killed?