I have never been so afraid to go anywhere in my life as I was that first day. As we walked into the arms of the forest, tears began to form in my eyes, but I struggled to hide them and gripped my gun for comfort. We exhaled quietly, afraid that our own breathing could cause our deaths. The lieutenant led the line that I was in. He raised his fist in the air, and we stopped moving. Then he slowly brought it down, and we sat on one heel, our eyes surveying the forest. We began to move swiftly among the bushes until we came to the edge of a swamp, where we formed an ambush, aiming our guns into the bog. We lay flat on our stomachs and waited. I was lying next to my friend Josiah. At 11, he was even younger than I was. Musa, a friend my age, 13, was also nearby. I looked around to see if I could catch their eyes, but they were concentrating on the invisible target in the swamp. The tops of my eyes began to ache, and the pain slowly rose up to my head. My ears became warm, and tears were running down my cheeks, even though I wasn’t crying. The veins on my arms stood out, and I could feel them pulsating as if they had begun to breathe of their own accord. We waited in the quiet, as hunters do. The silence tormented me.Ishmael Beah describes his first battle in harrowing detail in his memoir A Long Way Gone: his closest friends are shot dead, and he kills a man for the first time, a point from which there is no turning back.
I told you that I picked up the book as a bit of an impulse buy in Times the other day because I felt it would give me another perspective on the issue of child soldiers that I could put alongside Beasts of no Nation by Uzodinma Iweala which I was (still am!) in the process of reviewing. That Beah's story parallels Iweala's should come as no surprise as this is the story of hundreds of thousands of children in Africa.
But this is without a doubt the most moving book I've read in some time, much more so than Iweala's fictional version perhaps because of the hybrid language Iweala uses, perhaps because of the deliberate lack of specific detail. (Where are we? What war is this?)
I won't write more about the book here (wait for the review lah) but you can read a condensed version of the memoir archived on the New York Times website and also listen to an interview with Beah here.
Would I recommend it? Most definitely. The story, though harrowing, is beautifully written and I couldn't put it down. Few books move me to tears. This did.
Beah is a pretty incredible young man and if there is one book that deserves to be widely read this year because it will chance hearts and minds, this is it.
Now then, what are you reading?