Ishmael Beah was born in 1980, which makes him just two years older than I am. He was twelve years old when his home in Sierra Leone was invaded by rebels, most of his family presumed dead; he spent the next few years traveling with one group of friends, then another, trying to find food and shelter and escape the notice of the rebels– until, when he was still only 15, he was recruited into the national army. What follows is a mercifully short tale of drugs and violence, followed at length by Ishmael’s rehabilitation and journey to the US.
As the memoir of a teenager who was put into extraordinary circumstances and tells the story of his own experiences, this book reminds me of Come Back to Afghanistan, one of the first books I reviewed for this blog. Like the former book, this isn’t notable so much for its literary qualities as for the insider’s perspective into a world we wouldn’t otherwise see, as well as a wealth of information. But it has a wisdom, an honesty, that Come Back lacks; Beah is a good writer, and can really evoke the details of the life he lived. (Thankfully, he does tend to skimp on the details when they get too graphic).
It’s a dark book, certainly, but I’m glad to have read it.