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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Beah, Ishmael; A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007. $22.00, ISBN 0374105235 .

Note: This memoir offers an inside view of how lives are transformed when war sweeps through a country. Beah was living an ordinary life in a loving community with no personal knowledge of armed conflict. The only wars he knew of were those he heard about on the BBC, read of in books or saw in movies like Rambo. When war found Beah, he was traveling to a nearby community to perform rap music in a talent show. He and the other members of his group were abducted and forced to fight alongside other young teens in the governments army. Beah also details the difficult situation the child soldiers faced when released from the army  their homes destroyed and family members dead or missing. At fifteen Beah was selected to represent the children of Sierra Leone at a United Nations conference on children in conflicted countries. (CABA Honor)

War is also the theme of CABA Honor Book for Older Readers, A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier by the young Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leone. The war Beah describes is close in memory and tragic in consequences. Beah shows in graphic detail the horror of war and the havoc it wreaked on young people but there is more to his story. Imbedded in his shared memories are positive details about life in Sierra Leone. He retells local folktales, provides images of loving pre-war communities and describes the generosity villagers showed to Beah and the other boys fleeing the war. The committee discussed the public controversy over the veracity of certain events in Beah's book but after consultation with various scholars concluded that the contested elements did not mar the essential truth of Beah's story. When the book begins Beah is a happy-go-lucky twelve-year-old in love with rap music, a passion that both saves and traps him. Anxious to participate in a nearby talent show, Beah and his rap group are away from home when war descends on their village. They escape their families' fate but the boys are soon swooped up by rebel soldiers. Their lives, personalities and goals are transformed as seasoned soldiers program them to become killers. Hollywood is major element in this transformation. Rambo movies with their emphasis on violence and bravado are used repeatedly to indoctrinate the boys. Eventually Beah is rescued from the war and rehabilitated. Educators using Beah's memoir should encourage students to explore the role diamonds and Hollywood played in this war and the global players who were involved.

Copyright ©2007 by Africa Access, all rights reserved. Africa Access permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and Africa Access Review. For any other proposed use, contact AfricaAccess@aol.com

Rating: HR Grade: H / AD Type: Book

Reviewed by: Brenda Randolph, Africa Access

Subject: West Africa / Sierra Leone / Biography / CABA Honor / Black Author