Haunting Reality: A Review of A Long Way Gone

By February 11, 2009 culture No Comments

A few years ago, I stumbled upon an all-absorbing NPR interview. Featured was Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. Now in his mid-20s, he was telling his story on NPR and around the world. He spoke of his home and his people, giving them shape and form in my mind. Orphaned and on the run, with war all around him, Beah was forced to join the army or to face death by those same rebels who had slaughtered his family. This 12-year-old boy chose to join his friends in the army and take up arms: to avenge the murder of his family as well as fight for his own life.

Beah’s book was mentioned; I made a mental note to track it down.


Starbucks has spread its marketing magic beyond drinks and treats into entertainment. Both music and books are sponsored and highlighted in their cafes, ready for purchase in-store or online.

While at a Starbucks one day, I was surprised to see A Long Way Gone propped among mugs and embellishments. It was Beah’s book, surfacing here, reminding me of the interview and of the reality of war.

I didn’t buy the book that day. And by the time I stopped in for coffee again, the Starbucks marketing machine had already refreshed their displays. The story had exhausted its consumer shelf life. [The Starbucks Web site does retain a short summary of Beah’s book, as well as a video interview.]


Now I’ve finally read A Long Way Gone. I tracked it down during a book buying spree spurred on by a gift card. [small joys do seem best.] It’s been on my shelf for months now. Avoidance was likely due to the topic . . . I had an inkling of what those pages contained, and I wasn’t sure my heart was ready. I postponed the reading.

Once I started it—despite the nature of it—I could not leave it be. I closed the cover within 24 hours. Just as I had expected, my heart aches from the reality Beah endured; a reality I cannot fathom. His young life was ripped apart by violence and fear and cruelty.

There is no making sense of it.

I must know of it though—not that I could ever fix it; but to know of it softens the heart. Soft soil is fertile ground for God to work over and plant seeds of redemption, seeds of peace. It is a soil ready to soak in God’s sorrow for people in tragedies such as this.


A Long Way Gone is one of my selections for the Well-Seasoned Reading Challenge.

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