I am challenging myself this year to read lots of books – not just for pleasure, but for the purpose of growing and learning. I guess if I’m not going to go to college, I ought to do some self-educating and so far, I’ve learned a lot. I have only a measly list of books so far – I think I’ve only completely read seven books this year, but there are a few I started and never finished. That is pretty lame, so I’m trying to step it up. I’m also trying to branch out from what I normally read: Christian non-fiction. I really like to read books about spirutality, Bible characters and principles, and stuff like that. So, this week I read a book that was a good cross between biography, social issues, and pure human connection. It was the hardest read I’ve chosen so far – not because of the way it was written, but because of what it’s about.
The book is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, which was released earlier this year. I saw an advertisment for it on Amazon and it sparked my interest. Apparently the book has received plenty of attention, I was just unaware of it all. So, Greg checked it out for me at the library and I started reading it. It is only 218 pages, so I figured I could finish it in a day. Not so. It took me four days – and there were parts where I absolutely had to put the book down.
Most books I read, I read with fervor and determination and a “can’t put it down” attitude. This was completely different, though. Some of the images and descriptions were so intense that I had to stop reading. It didn’t gross me out – it just made my heart hurt for the hundreds of thousands of children who are thrusted into war and made to fight and/or witness unbearably gruesome acts of violence.
It puts a lot of things into perspective – we say that people have a “choice” here in America. We are so proud of our ability to choose. What do we choose between every day? My choices are fun: work a “day shift” or a “night shift” today? Play the Sims or go for a walk? Wear the new jeans or the new skirt? Ishmael’s choice during Sierra Leone’s war? Simple:
“Kill or be killed.”
This is a great book and puts into perspective what children of war go through – whether they are fighting or just observers, their lives are changed in ways we can’t imagine here in America. And there are more children like him – from Sierra Leone, from Iraq, from Afghanistan. From all corners of the globe, children are submitted to terrible and horrific cruelties that no child should ever have to witness.
And our children – children of privelege who we can shield from the terror and violence of war – spend their time playing video games where they slaughter and butcher one another.
“My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
‘Why did you leave Sierra Leone?’
‘Because there is a war.’
‘Did you witness some of the fighting?’
‘Everyone in the country did.’
‘You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?’
‘Yes, all the time.’
I smile a little.
‘You should tell us about it sometime.’
-Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone, Preface