Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Long way gone - memoirs of a boy soldier by Ishmael Beah

"It is not your fault" , Esther the nurse tells him, so does the others at the rehabilitation center. The world ask "whose mistake is it"? "Who stole their childhoods" ? Why is it, that even in the 21st Century, the world is at war, why does the innocent had to suffer for the gain of a few ? Why is that millions and millions of people homeless and starving ?

Ishmael Beah, a former boy soldier in the war trodden Sierra Leone , brings out a memoir of his troublesome period of his life to tell the world of the gruesome events unfolds in front of him as he witnessed, participated and recovered from. Written as a first person narrative, the story takes us to the villages of Sierra Leone, where the rebel forces of Revolutionary United Front , popularly known as RUF , is on a decade long civil war with the armed forces in a rich country destroyed by war, corruption and many coup attempts to topple the elected government.

His memoirs starts with his childhood days with his family, brother and friends. His fascination to the new generation Rap music and dance. One day, Ishmael with his brother and friends leaves for the nearby town to see the rap music event and participate. Little did they know that they are on a journey , never to return.

While returning , they comes to know that the rebels have attacked their village and destroyed the houses and killed the people. The run for safety and food starts from then. The vast part of the book is dedicated to this task of running away from the rebels, the people they meet whose fate is no better than theirs, few unexpected helps from survived villagers. Being chased and caught by village protection team suspecting them as rebels... and the gruesome incidents and stories experienced by survivors. In one of the skirmishes he also loose his brother, never to see him again. The fate takes him to the army camp and being trained to hold the AK-47s, the machine guns, the RPGs Ishmael becomes one of the hard core military man at the age of 13. Multiple encounters with the rebels, the bullet shots, death of colleagues, slitting of the throat , setting fire, looting the food and valuables etc are described in detail, looks very familiar as from a hollywood movie scene. Marijuana, cocaine and "brown brown" overdoses keeps away the tender feelings away, to give them the mental strength to carry out these gruesome acts.

The efforts of UNICEF and other Peace keeping Missions, gets Ishmael and few of his friends to the rehabilitation center at Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. I liked the pages describing the effects of "withdrawal syndrome" to the group and his reaction of the "civilians" commanding the "military"men. Gradually, he comes to senses and after a successful rehabilitation, he is re-instated to the normal society , adopted by his paternal uncle as a member of his family. Everything is not normal as events unfolds. A successful coup attempt and the control of Freetown by the new regime, makes the life worse for all. Ishmael fears that he will eventually get back to the killing ways, by forcefully joining the army. He plans his escape from the country which once was his home. The book is written by Ishmael after his escape to the US and after his successful graduation.

This is a war memoir, and not to be called a literary revolution. It brings about the true story of every single boy soldiers fighting the civil war at every part of the world. We are used to the "selective" reporting of the war journalists and here is a story by someone who has seen it all , done it all. It is difficult to write such a memoirs without the emotions taking the first seat. However, Ishmael Beah has done a fantastic job in getting the facts first in a very touching and moving ( at many places) narrative. Language is apt and crisp and it is written as told by a young boy.

Sierra Leone was recently in news in the movie "Blood Diamond" . The RUF rebels which controls the majority of the diamond mines uses innocent child laborers in the mining of diamonds. The book also gives us the chronological events that shaped (?) the current state of the country Sierra Leone.

A Long Way Gone - memoirs of a Boy Soldier
Written by Ishmael Beah ( Sierra Leone / US )
Published by Harper Perennial
229 Pages ( Paperback)
Rs 295/-
PS : Erstwhile dictator of Liberia , Charles Taylor has been under custody of International Crime Beaureau for his alleged involvement in the Sierra Leon civil war. he is being investigated for his support ( financially and arms) of RUF in return of Diamonds.


clash said...

Whose war? No one knows....

Brain Drain said...

Thanks Clash for the article..

There are many things to be answered..