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Ishmael Beah was about 12 years old when Sierra Leone’s civil war found him. He and his brother were visiting friends in a neighboring town and got cut off from their family. Their world descends into chaos and they are left trying to survive on their own.
Oh my gosh. This was just heartbreaking.
I started reading it one night, didn’t even get to anything about him being a soldier, and had nightmares. I was afraid of what Ishmael was in for.
In that respect, it was actually easier to read than I was afraid it would be. He tells about his time in the war pretty quickly. There are quite a few flashbacks, but he only tells enough to show what his life was really like. He doesn’t relive every waking moment. It was still tough to read, but not as bad as it could have been.
He and I are very close to the same age. He’s almost exactly a year older than my sister. So when he gives a date for whenever something happened, it was easy for me to compare it to our lives. In 1997 he was on his way to speak to the UN about child soldiers. I was getting my heart broken in college. The war reached him in 1993. I was a freshman in high school, swimming along just fine in my niche. We were practically the same age but our lives were light years apart. It was somehow humbling. It’s downright frightening to think this started when he was just a bit older than my youngest cousin is right now.
I was frustrated that this group of boys were basically coerced into the army because they were hungry and wanted some sense of community. Oh, there was a lot more to it than that, but before they became soldiers, they kept finding villages where they were not welcome and no one would feed them. I understand that the villagers were afraid they were soldiers, but still. Even if they were fed, no one invited them to stay. I tried to understand that if your family was hungry, you would not take in an extra mouth to feed. But it was so, so frustrating. It was a cycle that no one seemed interested in breaking.
Considering that these are memoirs, I don’t consider this to be a spoiler, but just in case….(highlight here)The people who worked to “rehabilitate” the boy soldiers must be saints. I’m glad they are out there doing so much good in the world, but I could not be one of them. I couldn’t handle it. They literally took beatings from these traumatized boys and came back to try to help them again the next day. There is a special place in heaven for them.
This was not an easy read by any means but I still recommend it. We tend to lose sight of exactly how good our lives are and this is a stark reminder. I also feel that anyone who is willing to bare his or her soul in this kind of memoir should find a receptive audience to bear witness.
Read an excerpt.
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