“A Long Way Gone” is a memoir of Sierra Leonean Ishmael Beah, published in 2007. It tells the intriguing story of the author’s journey, from a humble citizen and a boy solider to a rehabilitated adult, through the dark days of Sierra Leone when the decade long civil war tore the country.
Ishmael was born and raised in Sierra Leone in a loving family that believed in education for a better tomorrow. Ishmael, then 12 years old, his brother Junior and friends left home for Mattru Jong to perform in a talent show; following their passion for hip hop music and dance. That day marked the last time they all saw their families.
Then Mattru Jong fell under the rebels. Ishmael and his friends had never seen anyone get shot at point-blank range; they never witnessed people dying or experienced the agony and dripping blood before. The trauma the group went through forced them to leave the village running through the woods with their hearts beating fast.
Ishmael and the friends he made on the run came across the so called government army at the age of 13 and were forced to join. They were brainwashed to believe that becoming a soldier and fighting against the rebels was the only option they had to revenge their families’ blood.
Staying in the army for three years straight, Ishmael became a drug addict whose memories of good times prior to the war were entirely blocked and whose sole ambition was to become as good as the villains in the action and war movies, the army fed them every day.
Luckily, Ishmael was rescued by UNICEF at the age of 16 and taken to Benin House, a rehabilitation center in Freetown. Had it not been for the patience and strength of the staff, especially the volunteer Nurse Eshter, chances were that Ishmael wouldn’t have lived to see today and write this exceptional story.
Not one page out of the total 256 failed to awe me with the intriguing way of storytelling, spiced up with the firsthand experiences that kept me marveling at the very nature of the human brain, its way of thinking and flexibility. If A Long Way Gone was a novel or even a “based-on-a-true-story”, I would have said it was a little exaggerated as I could never imagine anyone’s brain capable of undergoing such changes. I cannot think of someone changing into a completely different persona and being restored back to the old original person through love, hope and faith. But, good enough to convince me, the book is a firsthand experience, a memoir with not even a pinch of fictious character or setting. It revealed to me a whole new dimension about life and a bigger drop of evidence of how anything is possible.