A Long Way Gone

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"Even a twelve year old can kill brutally” I thought as I read “A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy soldier”.  Born and raised in a country where killing is a hobby to many, I have yet to come in terms with the fact that a child who should be committing silly mischievous acts; holds a pointed gun to an elder thrice his age. 

I have seen and heard of adults who are brainwashed into killing the Christian communities of India. It’s a painful reality that children are used as killing machines in this modern era.

Ishmael Beah’s memoir is quite a horrifying and jolting piece of work. His writing is simple, clear and to the point; it neither plays with the emotions of the reader nor confuses us with too many facts. The tone he uses throughout the book is as someone who speaks from the outside looking in; he does not validate or reproach his actions. Everything Beah states induces sympathy towards him, though he asks for none.

One of the attributes of Beah’s narration is that they are simple; however they rouse the thoughts of human beings and their lives. “That night for the first time in my life,” writes Ishmael in Chapter 3, “I realized that it is the physical presence of people and their spirits that gives a town life” (p. 22). This is a sentence that really provoked a thought to the existence of mankind, yet Beah explains it in such a simple way without mingling the viewpoint with philosophical or psychological terms. Readers of any level can grab this book and understand the basics and find many truths about life.

Throughout the book Beah does not show his emotions and this lets the reader come to their own conclusion. “The wheelbarrow in front of me contains a dead body wrapped in white bedsheets. I do not know why I am taking this particular body to the cemetery.

When I arrive at the cemetery…I lift the cloth from the body’s face. I am looking at my own” (p. 18). Beah’s narration of this nightmare makes it seem as if this is happening to him in reality. This passage, however, shows no emotions as to what he felt upon seeing that dream except that his whole body ached. Though Beah displays little emotion, his fear is driven through the readers mind as the nightmare unfolds in front of them.

His tone of narration is consistent and neutral that it does not play with the emotions of the readers. As explained above, Beah lets the reader develop their own fear, and emotion into the essay. “One of the unsettling things about my journey, mentally, physically, and emotionally, was that I wasn’t sure when or where it was going to end” (p.69). As Beah writes this sentence, the reader expects him to elaborate how he was unsettled mentally, physically, and more importantly emotionally.

He does not give a description as to how he is affected emotionally, but rather he states that he does not know what he is going to do with his life. This one sentence alone allows the reader to point his/her emotion into the circumstance. Everyone has felt this desperation of not knowing what to do with their life at least once in their life.

Therefore the readers’ perspective of this anxiety forms an emotion that is applied to Beah’s narration. Though Beah is both consistent and neutral in his narration, his memoirs are a sequence of sad and emotional climb for the reader.

While Beah’s simple, neutral and unemotional tones convince the readers of it realism, it is also hard to prove the situations such as when he describes his drug usage. Pages 156-158 depict the drug usage and how he could not feel the bullets that pierced through his bones is quite unbelievable. Also in the beginning chapters he talks about how he had no sleep for over a month, which I believe is embellishing the truth. Scientifically, the body is said to be dead after 10-11 days of no sleep. If a child has no sleep for more than 5 days, it will lead him to his grave without much effort. Minor scenarios such as these may prove to the falsity of Beah’s memoir. Though he may have embellished his experiences in the minute details, one cannot really disprove that these events did not occur in his life.

Beah’s memoir is personal and at the same time he shows the hardship of other boy soldiers like him fighting in the war. Numerous journalists have tried to depict the lives of boy soldiers in this manner and have not succeeded. Beah writes to impact the lives of the readers who have the slightest knowledge of the horrendous acts in their neighboring countries. He accomplishes his goal through clear and simple words, consistent tone and his unemotional narrative.

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