The book ‘A Long Way Gone’ by Ishmael Beah is a memoir of the author’s experiences as a child soldier. The book discusses the journey focusing on the endless struggle, suffering, and survival of a child in the time of war and the impossible and almost miraculous delivery despite the circumstances. The book is placed in a clinical context that is not much, unlike most African writers. Ishmael Beah, like many African writers, discusses the post-colonial era in which Africa was besieged by political and social unrest, which fuelled many civil wars. His narrative sheds light on the atrocity of the civil wars. It is not uncanny to see other authors have neglected the topic that he discusses. Indeed, the use of children as soldiers is a hidden fact that has since been avoided. Beah’s story provides an African view of the problem. As an African story, it has similar features as in the slave narratives. Beah identifies this as an African story. He presents his identity not in the duality of being an African American but in the context that he is an African who only migrated to America. For him, his move to America was to make progress beyond the oppressive native grounds and attain a voice as an author and freedom in his new land.
The voice as an author and freedom of voice is visible in Beach’s challenge of views. In this context, he provides differences between the Western view of Violence and the reality as seen through the eyes of an innocent child. In recounting his story, Beah challenges the West’s celebrated perspective of violence and war through the eyes of what was an innocent child. Through this viewpoint, the audience can evaluate both experiences and comprehend the horrendous effects of war and its enduring toll on humanity, tearing without end the naivety in the hearts and brains of old and young. For Beah, ghastliness, apprehension, and peril tailed him into both cognizant and oblivious thought, abandoning him in a reality where day and night were same. He was selected as a child soldier in the Sierra Leone Armed Force at the young age of 13 looking for food, acceptance, and protection. There, he was exposed to narcotics, which he distinguishes as the ‘brown substance’, a blend of gunpowder, and cocaine that he smoked. Moreover, he was given marijuana compellingly. In the armed force, the child Ishmael changes into a heartless and drug dependent youngster who just needs to retaliate for the death of his family and loved ones. During all the murdering and inhumanity of violence, Beah ponders his identity, which is who he truly is, his cultural character and the lost conventions from his town. In description of his survival story, Beah weaves in his recollections of youth, of the benefit of storytelling, the vital part of the older individuals (the elderly) within the African context, and the feeling of a group that he had been once identified with. Through these recollections, however, many people were unavailable until some other time after his restoration; he regains his sense of self- his profoundly embedded character giving him and the audience a mutual feeling of trust.
All through the story, Beah’s hidden message is clear: he witnesses the devastation of his town, as well as the customs and value system within the Sierra Leonean town group. It is decisively these perceptions that stress the complexity in the practicality of life in the village both before and in the time of war. Beah was able to see the problems that come from the war, which, indeed, turns what was at one time an adoring and sustaining nation or community to a place of mistrust and violence. Grown-ups or older individuals, the most regarded in African culture, started to fear their youngsters- the future generation, uncertain of their association as officers. The fear was not because the children were evil. It was because not only became tools of war but also they were a picture of a merciless and corrupted generation. Beah shows the descent into madness of the children as a possible fuel not only in the current war but in the future to come. As a soldier, the above was but a norm to him. His reality was the role he played as a soldier.
‘The idea of death didn‘t cross my mind at all and killing had become as easy as drinking water. My mind had not only snapped during the first killing, it had also stopped making remorseful records, or so it seemed‖ (Beah 122)
On innumerable events, Beah saw child soldiers executing and killing grown-ups, and setting towns ablaze. The older generation of people was no more regarded, and made to feel sub-par, while the common qualities that were so critical to the community in the African cultural context were made out of date. Rather, there was a society of war, supplanted by estimations of fellowship between officers, of viciousness and adequacy of murdering.
Beah inevitably transforms his painful encounters into a real account by concentrating more on the impacts of conflict than as a child soldier during the period of war. His phase at the rehabilitation centre, after nomination by his Lieutenant, focuses where he regains back his humanity gets greater consideration in the narrative than his years in the armed force where he is changed into a instrument of death and destruction. He offers to want to the individuals who have been or are in the same circumstance, and he is hopeful about the eventual fate of people like him. He has faith in the restoration of ex-child fighters and identifies himself as existing confirmation:
‘We can be rehabilitated, ‘I would emphasize, and point to myself as an example. I would always tell people that I believe children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings if given a chance (Beah 169).
In the meantime, in any case, Beah perceives that he was fortunate and that the restoration of rehabilitated child soldiers frequently falls flat because of a few issues. The most compelling evidence of this disappointment is Mambu, a kid who was likewise restored in Benin Home; however, who wound up going back to the forefronts since his family declined to take him in (Beah 180).
Ishmael Beah’s ‘A Long Way Gone’ is a narrative of hope. That indicates that despite the problems that arise there is a place for the change. He provides lessons on loss and rediscovery of the community, war, and its atrocities, survival, vengeance, and hope. His exploration of these particular thematic concerns enables him to build on the story. He challenges the glorification of war by the West by presenting a view of the actual reality that comes about due to the effect of war. His is the provision of a critical lesson that is aimed at propagation of peace and ending of violence and its means as a solution to civil problems.
Beah, Ishmael. A long way gone: Memoirs of a boy soldier. Macmillan, 2007.