Monday, April 09, 2007

A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

Using children as combatants is civil wars all over the world is a very tragic but equally common phenomenon. From time to time, we get to see children who are barely 12 years so clad in military fatigues carrying deadly weapons which are many times longer and heavier than kids themselves.

This is a book written by one such soldier who was recruited by army in Sierra Leone to fight rebels. For anyone who has kept up with international news civil war in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other areas in west africa are quite familiar. But, we do not get to hear from people who actually participated in such civil wars because most do not live long enough to write about it and who lived are not fortunate enough to spend rest of their lives in better societies which are considerate to what they went thru and interested in spreading their words so that general public wakes up and does something about it.

The author's story follows a familiar trend. Boy's parents killed either by rebels or army, boy recruited by army or rebels and fights a meaningless war and in the process misses on his childhood and adolescence. That's the high level story. But, the details are mind numbing and moving. One thing those who wanted use child soldiers had to address was how to make these kids resistant blood, gore and violence of the war that too one fought with no rules.Drug them and drug them often and heavily. Right from the initiation child soldiers are made to take drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine to synthetic drug to herbs such as khath to numb their senses and pains. It is also useful as analgesic which everyone needs while fighting. On top of drugs, fill kids with hatred for the other side by repeating how the other party is responsible for the death of their family and demonstrate the violence and make kids practice all that.

In this book, author traces his life over 4 years in which he loses his family, travels many miles running from rebels and army, gets recruited by army, fights meaning less battles, indulges in heinous acts of violence which most of can not comprehend, gets rehabilitated, makes it to UN to make the world aware of child soldiers, goes back to Sierra Leone, once again gets in the way of civil war which picks up again, manages to escape being recruited or killed the second time, makes a high risk journey to cross over to neighboring country Guinea and makes it to US with the help of friends he had made during his visit to New York for UN address. The details make up a nice book.

First half part of so where the author runs from place to place with his friends and people who become friends by being in similar situation is pretty slow and reads like a diary. The story after the kid is recruited by army to fight rebels reads a captivating novels. The rehabilitation process is very touching as the kid brings out how good the people were to him during the rehabilitation although all he wanted was more drugs and a quick way back to his old life. The escape to the US is not described in detail for unknown reasons.

If you have seen a recent movie 'Blood Diamond', this is a good book to relate to. The movie shows the lives of these child soldiers quite well although the movie centers around the diamond trade for which all the wars in that region are being fought.

Very touching book. It's so good to know that the author who made it to the US at the age of 16, completed his education from Oberlin college and currently serves in UN. I hope the author does not stop here after a successful book and goes on to do something much more to his cause. And he should and I guess he will as he is in a good position to make difference as part of UN.


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