Friday, September 19, 2008

a long way gone.

rarely do you read a book and find your heart ache as much as it did when i finally read Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone.

i guess you could say fiction can give you the emotional gut wrench every now and again (Jhumpa Lahiri and Brian Michael Bendis alike), but this was the first work of non-fiction i had read in years that would have me in a REAL state of saddened despair after each reading. and yet i knew i must finish it.

the book follows the author's first hand accounts oexploits in Sierra Leone (eastern Africa), being removed from his family during the "civil war", wandering the countryside on his own and with other young teen/pre-teen boys (from whom the populace was afraid given the current state of the country), ultimately being recruited in the "army" as a child, the horrors of war, and his ultimate rehabilitation + reentry into society, only as the civil war took a turn for the worse. while the earlier stages of the book are harrowing and obvious, it is the final chapters that lay the contrast + trauma's effects out to bare that really ground you in the despair of reality as it stands.

in all honesty, i regret that during my travels of the past few weeks, i was not strong enough to finish reading in one sitting, finding excuses to take a break, enjoying the frivolities of life. only a few books have had such an effect on me, and mostly were holocaust related (Elie Wiesels's Night and Art Spiegelman's Maus)

what this book did differently to break through though was to speak of unspeakable tragedy that most of the world is ignorant to in a very matter-of-fact sort of way. too often in the western world do we hear the plights of the past, as atrocious as they were, that we should never forget. but as i would read the dates in this book...1995, 1996, was immediately relevant to me as i remembered and contrasted what was going on in my life at the time. it all seems so trivial now. and yet, in a large part of our world, oft referred to as the cradle of humanity, a form of anarchy takes place that we largely choose to ignore.

this is another book that should be required reading. for everyone. children and adults alike.

and yes, i first heard about it on the Daily Show (in Feb 2007, adding it to my wishlist + finally receiving it this past Christmas). many people i talk to about the book recall hearing about the book there as well. here's the clip:

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