The only way that I can begin to describe this book accurately is with an excerpt. This is just one of many similar accounts I could have chosen.
“The morning after the lieutenant’s speech, we proceeded to practice killing prisoners the way the lieutenant had done it. Five men were lined up in front of us on the training ground with their hands tied. We were supposed to slice their throats on the corporal’s command. The person whose prisoner died the quickest would win the contest. We had our bayonets out and were supposed to look in the faces of the prisoners as we took them out of this world….The corporal gave the signal with a pistol shot and I grabbed the man’s head and slit his throat with one fluid motion. His Adam’s apple made way for the sharp knife, and I turned the bayonet on its zigzag edge as I brought it out. His eyes rolled up and they looked me straight in the eye before they suddenly stopped in a frightful glance, as if caught by surprise. I dropped him to the ground and wiped my bayonet on him. The bodies of the other prisoners fought in the arms of the other boys, and some continued to shake on the ground for a while……the audience clapped as if I had just fulfilled one of life’s greatest achievements. We celebrated that day’s achievement with more drugs and more war movies.”
Ishmael Beah was 13 years old when this story happened.
A Long Way Gone tells the story of Ishmael from the ages of 12 through 16. He is forced into the government’s army in Sierra Leone, and is subsequently brainwashed into fighting against the rebel RUF armies. His days are filled with fighting, sniffing brown-brown (cocaine mixed with gunpowder), and watching Rambo on repeat. Beah ultimately earns a distinction as one of the most notorious child soldiers in Sierra Leone, before he is taken into custody by Unicef who begins the long process of rehabilitating a child who has literally murdered hundreds of people.
This book should be a must read for everybody — it gives a horrifying glimpse of another reality of Sierra Leone aside from the more publicized blood diamonds.