A review of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone.
I had issues reading Ishmael Beah’s ‘novel’, A Long Way Gone. I am not against the fact that it is categorised as a memoir when a bunch of it reads fiction. All memoirs have fancy lies. The lies make it richer. And writers are perfect liars too. I love the book. I love the pictures painted in the pages. I love the lives of the minors who were influenced by a foreign culture which later saved them. I love the Hip-hop culture they cultivated. And if you’ve ever visited Nigeria you would love the Hip-hop culture too. There is rarely a difference. Adventure, slangs, nodding to steady beats, it’s all fun. The young people are so engrossed in it. We have our panties sagged to village meetings and give finger signs to pass certain information across. Nice age.
And I love the blurbs on A Long Way Gone. My favourite is that of the Washington Post. It urged everyone to read the book. It must have come from the emotion of the reviewer. The book is a perfect sad story with a lot of twist to make it enjoyable. It’s like seeing guns in shops with tags that say “Sexy”. I could figure a minor reading the book and crying for help. I seriously love the book. And I am in love with the writer. I am not ‘gay’. Ask anyone. And the writer knows hell and he sure knows literature too. He knows wit and has a good brush to paint them.
It took me a while to finally finish the 218 pages paper back book. It took me about a month. There were a lot I needed to understand; the language, the delivery, the names mentioned, the history of Sierra Leone, the Pidgin English written and the terms of war that over shadowed other subtle themes like responsibility for life etc. It was ‘mind blasting’.
I am sad at the backwardness of Africa and its leadership. I am disappointed that minors are still being used in driving home greedy agenda. Pathetic! I was stunned at the beginning when I saw the picture of a woman running with a dead baby strapped to her back without the knowledge of the mother. The child had been hit by a stray bullet. I cried in the middle of the book when I saw Mr Beah’s lost of childhood. I wept when I imagined losing a family. I was literally mad to read through the heap of dead bodies and the death as caused and experienced by some of my favourite characters. It was one hell of a journey. From Mattru Jong to the United States, I needed to take the microphone off Mr Beah at the UN and say a couple of words to leaders around the world that still subject children to the madness of war. Bastards!
I laughed at the end of the book when I saw the end puzzle. It had the entire book summarised in fewer words. You should read it. There was just a lot to get me going. I saw myself in the pictures and illustrations. But the war and the mention of killings looked even more Hollywood than the reality the writer intended. But I believe him. I am happier knowing that the writer just wants to live a life free of war and less attention. He eventually got attention. And the woes of child soldiering are standing right in front of us like power failure and corruption. We are a long way gone, really.
Mr Beah held my emotion in his palm, tossed it all around, and threw it to the west. It was fun. It had a lot of reviews. That’s what ‘African writers’ want, isn’t it? But he did shy away from giving me full description of the ladies he met. I had that of his mother and Esther, the nurse at the rehabilitation centre. But I needed some more. But I didn’t get any. That’s the only defect I have with the book. Mr Beah would have to personally apologise. He would, seriously.
I think I am a better soldier, reading from Ishmael Beah. I should never love violence and I should preach and hate all acts that portray it. I love the fact that Mr Beah later took the American Hip-hoppers to Sierra Leone for a visit and see the real pictures of violence. The future is brighter for him. Have I mentioned that I have friends who are of the opinion that about a chapter of the book didn’t happen? When you read those chapters you would know. I sensed some foul play but it was enjoyable. A little bit of this and that kills no one. Mr Beah is a genius. He deserves some applause.
I read A Long Way Gone after reading a book on the English Language and the abuse of it by John Humphrys. If you are a follower of Mr Humphrys you would know of his fear for language and his choice of words. Mr Beah is a poet. And an American. Sierra Leone took his childhood, his parents and friends. It gave him guns and a heart of stone. It gave him marijuana too. But Mr Beah is better without these gifts. The language of A Long Way Gone is streets’. The book has the best when it comes to vivid memories. I am afraid of the memories of Mr Beah and I am glad he survived the war in Sierra Leone. It’s pathetic that even in Freetown there is no freedom.
What makes a good book in the west? Is the amount of blackness in it or the amount of suffering and poverty? What has made the west embrace African authors even more? Is it for pity or for the good of the literatures? If the latter is the case then a lot of authors in Africa and around the world deserve better things than what is given.
But to ask if there is an Africa devoid of war, poverty, militia killing, and the out break of diseases is to take words out of my mouth. Who tells of this pretty Africa? Is there is one and how do we relate that to the present state of corruption and underdevelopment, assassination, coups and violent dethronement as in Egypt and Libya?
A Long Way Gone is a good book of life story, fiction etc. I would request you read and cry a little, that way you would appreciate freedom and fight to keep it. Mr Beah told of stories in his village. He told of his uncle and the listening to stories over the radio. He touched a great part of the African culture. I love him. And I would read his next book of poetry, fiction and stories. But he owes me more description of female characters. I love just love ladies.
Nwilo Bura-Bari Vincent is a screenwriter, poet and short story writer. He is based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.