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Heartbreaking story of a war victim
on 14 February 2008
Ismael Beah's story of being caught up in the civil war of Sierra Leone, of witnessing and then taking part in atrocities, is simply written, but no less powerful for that. He writes as a child of 12, although it is clear from his afterword that he has chosen this style to give greater impact, and that as a wrtier he is capable of a much more sophisticated analysis.
This approach works and definitely makes the book accessible to teenagers, particularly teenage boys.
He has a great ear for the nuances of childhood, you can immediately connect to both his feelings of excitement, loneliness and fear in the earlier parts of the book.
His book describes all the initiations of a child soldier - the drug addiction and violent initiation ceremonies, but skims somewhat over what happened between being forced to be a child soldier and his rehabilitation.
You are also left with a feeling that some of the process of rehabilitation has been left private. There is a difficult line between honesty and indulging the reader's voyeurism. this is not a book which indulges in violence for its own sake.
That said, Beah's description of what must have been an incredibly painful journey towards self-acceptance and rehabilitation is sometimes skimmed over. He was a child, with no real choices, but he also did some terrible things and deep down he must know that. There is none of the masterful, and intensely painful, self analysis of, say, Roman Frister, in his book "The Cap, or the Price of a Life". Perhaps Beah is still too young to write that book of his life, but I think he may have it in him.
So, an excoriating description of life in Sierra Leone, which leaves you to fill in some the gaps yourself. An important book, because it is an honest account of a devastating issue, and an extraordinary work, given Beah's youth and disrupted education. Recommended for adults and older teenagers.
However, Beah's great work on this subject is, I suspect, still ahead of him.