This was an amazingly written story of Ishmael’s childhood in Sierra Leone. It really opened my eyes — I didn’t realize that child soldiers, hopped up on drugs and other things, were forced to fight and kill just to stay alive themselves.

Ishmael Beah’s story is a moving account of his life, beginning when he was twelve and had to run from the rebels as they burned villages and killed families. After being separated from his family, friends, and all others he knew, he was eventually recruited into the army — being told he could either join the army, or hide from the rebels and die trying.

Ishmael spares no details as he retells of his time in the army as a Junior Commander and eventually, his release from the army and difficult rehabilitation in a UNICEF centre.

Ishmael Beah has an amazing, distinctive voice. It’s absolutely astounding how much he went through, and I am really glad I got a chance to read this book. It’s worth your time. I cannot believe that someone — a child — went through this and was able to come out so positive. During the book, Beah is so resilient and goes through so much, just to stay alive — knowing that ultimately that is what is important.

New York City, 1998

My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
“Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”
“Because there is a war.”
“Did you witness some of the fighting?”
“Everyone in the country did.”
“You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
“Yes, all the time.”
I smile a little.
“You should tell us about it sometime.”
“Yes, sometime.”

This is how wars are fought now: by children, traumatized, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become the soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What does war look like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A LONG WAY GONE: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a powerfully gripping story: At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal. This is an extraordinary and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

Full disclosure: I read a copy of the book that we received in the office. This situation did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.