By September 18, 2008 0 Comments Read More →


longwaygone.jpg Long Way Gone by Ishamel Beah:   (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007)

The issue of whether or not readers of contemporary memoir can actually trust the books they are reading is a major one.  The good news is:  it does not matter for book discussion purposes.  In fact, that issue can create the first question you can ask your group to get a discussion rolling:  how much of this book were you willing to believe?

The veracity of Ishmael Beah has been called into question by the Australian press who has taken on his story as a cause célèbre.  However, no one appears to disbelieve that he was a boy soldier during the terrible years in
Sierra Leone when their people warred on each other.  What is up for questions are some of the incidents related in the book, the fine details of dates and a potential parent for this war orphan. 

Foreknowledge of these facts might spoil the narrative flow but I read the book without knowing of the dispute.  And I will testify that the book provides a relentless display of the despair of war.  It is amazing how quickly a society can shatter.  It is even more amazing that a nation’s people would war on themselves.  Despite all the recent world conflicts where this is true, it still made me read in disbelief. 

The story is told in a style that reads as if a young boy were narrating the story into a tape recorder.  The story comes in fits and starts.  Actual accounts are interrupted by false memories, dreams and shadows while the story jumps from one time to another. 

All of this leads the reader to feel as if they are caught up in a nightmare and indeed they are.  Can there be a worse event then war?  Perhaps not, but can there be a worse war then one in which the soldiers are children?

This memoir will satisfy any book discussion group who wants to take on this sad subject. 



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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