A friend of mine lent me A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier a long time ago. She lives in San Francisco, so she dropped it off last time she was here, and I just never got a chance to read it. Well, she wanted it back before I go of to Asia, and I'm to drop it off with one of our mutual friends before I leave (because she's coming to NY in a week). So I read the book in one sitting last night, in about 3 and a half hours (it's only about 220 pages).
Let's see, what to say?
This is a tough book to read. Very tough. Not because of the writing, which is very easy to read, but because the atrocities are simply terrible. The reality of it, knowing that this is a memoir and not fiction, that this happened, is awful. You cringe, you don't want to keep going, but you do. It's tough. And I can't believe this guy is basically my age. In 1994, when he's fleeing and/or shooting ppl down, I was still weaning myself off my Barbie dolls, going to Bar Mitzvahs, wondering if a boy will ever like me back. It puts it all in perspective.
His writing -- though never fabulous, is honest and affecting. The biggest reason is the certain sense of detachment in which he describes everything. You get a clear sense from the book that he has learned to withhold his emotions - for fear of the tenaciousness of happiness -- and it comes through in his writing. His writing is never emotional, even when he describes emotions. And yet, there's a power in the almost journalistic way he describes certain events. The writing is nostalgic at times, but that's about as close to emotional that he gets. [Writing note to self: there's a certain power in understating horror. Must learn to use this technique.]
Another thing that struck me is the way he describes the Unicef workers who come to save them. I thought to myself about the tremendous point of view he has given us. Most stories feature some well-doer going in and observing the sad/confused state of the people they're trying to help, and we get that good samaritan viewpoint a lot. But the way Beah describes these people from abroad, so out of their element, with their happy, shiny faces, it really hit me how naive and idealistic these people are. Even though I know this is a memoir, so it is true to what he must have experienced and felt about these people, I thought it was pitch perfect, to expose us to his observation of these workers. [I confess, I'd be a silly happy shiny person too.] People who really just have no idea. [Writing note to self: pick the differing viewpoint. Take away your own preconcieved notions and judgments.]
It is really sad to me, the things that happen in the world. That little boys are being dragged into something they don't understand. That they're going through PTSD. That they're being given drugs. That they're learning to channel their fear, frustrations, hunger, into killing. I am so sad for these kids. There were just so many scenes here that just broke my heart, made me grit my death. How people can be so cruel to each other is beyond me. And why prey upon the young, impressionable minds of youth just seems so calculated and evil.
That's all I have to say for now.
Oh, also, I had a minor book buying accident.