In A LONG WAY GONE, Ishmael Beah provides a devastating memoir of his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war during the 1990s.
At the age of 12, his village is attacked by rebels (the RUF), separating him from his family and forcing him to wander the countryside trying to stay alive. Eventually he is forced to join an Army unit who trains him to fight and gives him drugs to bolster is courage. As a child soldier, he fights the rebels and sometimes raids civilian villages to gather supplies so his unit can keep going. After four years, UNICEF was able to get him removed from his unit and put into a rehabilitation program, where he was adopted by his uncle. After the war reached the capital of Freetown, where he lived, he fled the country and ended up in New York, where he was adopted by a a UNICEF worker.
Beah tells his story in a very simple, direct way. Often, as you’re reading, you can hear the words as a child would say them. The brutality of the civil war is horrible–drug-crazed rebels and soldiers fighting, looting, raping, terrorizing the country. The story is an amazing journey of survival and a lost childhood.
If you’re interested in this subject, you might also check out BEASTS OF NO NATION, a Netflix movie starring Idris Elba, which was a fantastic portrayal of child soldiers, based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala.