This is one of those books you should definitely read, but don’t really want to. Yet, you should anyway. Gear up for it if you have to and tell yourself you’ll read something light afterward. It’s worth it.
Long Way Gone (LWG) is an intense and brutally open account of a boy from Sierra Leone, who at the age of thirteen finds himself a soldier fighting for three years with the government forces in his country’s civil war (1991 – 2002). At its heart, LWG is a story about a decent, gentle boy who becomes like a machine that can kill without thought, yet eventually manages to regain his humanity. In Ishmael’s case, it was with the help of UNICEF and his extended family…and in no small measure, his own astounding strength. Later, he is one of two boys chosen from his country to speak at the United Nations on how violent conflicts affect children.
We’ve all heard of terrible atrocities going on in our world, but the story of an individual child is much more difficult to bear than to hear statistics—like over 50,000 people killed. Why is that? I think it’s because we can’t wrap our minds around those kinds of numbers. The scope. Plus, they are faceless. But we can picture and walk with the one…the individual. That’s why such accounts are so important. They are galvanizing.
This story gave a glimpse into a life…culture…and perspective very foreign from my own. It yanked at my heart…and to be honest, made me feel slightly sick. But, it also provided valuable insights that I believe can be applicable to anyone helping in other traumatic situations happening around the world.
In addition to compassionate awareness and advocacy, reading LWG can promote understanding. For example,
1) To understand why a child who has experienced war might jump at the sound of chopping wood or stones landing on tin roofs. (pg.5).
2) To comprehend why it might be a bad idea for a well-meaning humanitarian entity to right away put boy soldiers who have served on opposing sides in the war, in a rehabilitation center—together. Taking someone out of a certain setting does not automatically create neutrality. People bring their emotions and memories with them, regardless of place. These are just a few of the things I learned from this book.
I’m thankful that Ishmael was able to tell his story and bring greater awareness to those of us caught up in our own lives, so removed from such atrocities. I’m also grateful to those who volunteer in warzones—both locals and expat staff—helping boys like Ishmael. It’s not a stop on everyone’s life path to do that kind of thing. But if they can do it, I figure I can at least make myself read about the people and situations that have compelled them to become involved in relief and/or rehabilitation efforts.
Don’t think for second that this book won’t hold your interest. It will. I read it in two days. I’d love to hear what you think of it, too.