I watched the movie Somewhere In Africa a while back. The Movie talks about the many civil wars that continue to spring up in Africa hence hampering any possibility of growth and development because the military governments that take over during civil wars have absolutely no regard for human freedom. Anybody who stands against them is either incarcerated indefinitely or killed in open fire. They have no regard for the rule of law. School children were hurt the most as they tried to fight for change.
The Frank Raja Arase film made me a bit confused. I mean in this era where the international community is connected and it is very easy for the word to pass around and for rescue to come, how was it possible that all these humanitarian crises would take place in the fictitious country called Kimbala right under the watch of everyone else in the world? Or did Frank Raja just try to tell a story that was as exaggerated?
But I did not have to think about it for long because I came across Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. It gives a personal account of the civil war that broke out in Sierra Leone in March 1991 and went on until January 2002. It was largely sparked by abuses of power by the incumbent government leading to dissatisfaction on the part of the people and a desire to take back their country and restore it to democracy.
Ishmael Beah is just about six years old when the smell of war begins to waft into his community. What followed were a series of attacks and killings by the rebels, mass exoduses that culminated in the loss of his family and close friends, his movement to an absolutely new location. This culminated in him joining one of the rebel groups as a child soldier and joined the fighters; transforming quickly from a carefree school-going child who liked to listen to rap music and perform it with his brother and friends at home to a drug-taking boy soldier who depended on suppressed consciousness to kill the people he considered his enemies and his family’s killers.
The book takes us through the journeys that Ishmael Beah goes through both internally and externally. This easily interweaves through the harrowing tale of deaths, abuses – physical, mental and sexual hunger, hardship, loneliness, isolation, hopelessness, survival, deprivation of anything that means humanity to the victims of war.
The first person narrative voice in the book erases any distance that would otherwise exist if any other voice was used. And while this choice of voice would have been the best bet considering Beah embarked on telling his personal experience, the effectiveness with which he achieves this is closely tied to the alertness of the storyteller. While the story is harrowing and scary, the author does not lose sight of the fact that he is telling a story that should serve various purposes namely: entertaining, educating, informing and let the reader have a peek into a different world. The idea is to stimulate our thoughts about what, in that situation, we the readers would have done.
One of the styles which stand out in the book is the vivid description with which the writer draws our attention to the events that are described in the 2007 book. While it would be unpalatable for an author to describe the details of what happens during a war because of the unsettling nature of the events, Beah cleverly works around this. He knows just where to put a light touch that uplifts the mood of the reader. His use of humour served this purpose well and his creativity when it came to the detailed description made it possible for the readers to visualize without having their sensibilities upset by the dire nature of the chaos in the book.
The tone of the book is also calm. This plays a role in the proper delivery of the story that can otherwise very easily make someone want to stop reading the book because blood and war are tolerable in fiction not in real life. The choice of words also makes for a smooth reading throughout the 218 pages of this book and it can appeal to anyone with an average grasp of the English language.
This book is a recommended reading for everyone because I think it is the closest to a complete war story that I have read. It does well to educate the people who have not experienced a civil war first-hand, like I had not and therefore could not understand the movie, Somewhere in Africa. The book is also a recommended reading because it draws our attention back to our humanity and the reason why peace and constancy are very vital as well as why the comfort, predictability and safety that political stability affords should not be taken for granted.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was first published in 2007 by Sarah Crichton Books. It is locally available in leading bookshops.