Sadly, everything I knew about Sierra Leone came from the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio. When I first saw A Long Way Gone on display at Starbucks quite a while ago, I didn’t realize what it was about and it wasn’t until I saw the movie that I started to piece them together. While this book isn’t about conflict diamonds, it is about the atrocities of war–especially a war where children are on the front lines.
Ishmael was twelve when his village was attacked and he was separated from his family. After trying to survive on his own for some time, he is picked up by the army and “recruited” as a soldier. I put “recruit” in quotes because Ishmael makes it clear that he didn’t have much of a choice. The army broke his spirit, and after much exposure to violence, propaganda/brainwashing, and drugs, he himself becomes a killer. After a few years, UNICEF buys his freedom and he is put into a rehabilitation facility.
A Long Way Gone is a truly heartbreaking story which at times is difficult to read because of the horrendous acts of the soldiers, including Ishmael. In my cozy little corner of suburbia it is difficult for me to imagine such things occurring in the world, but Ishmael delivers a story of hope–but I can’t help wonder how much of it was sheer luck for him. Even after he broke from the war and rehabilited, many of those who were also “rehabilitated” rejoined the fighting once they were exposed to it again.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book–how much of what Ishmael says happened truly did. But is that really the point? Somewhere these things are happening to someone; are we simply in denial? Anyway, I recommend the book. My only regret is that the book ended too soon for me–I want to know what happens next for Ishmael.