Chapter 10 of this book is perhaps the most perfect and beautiful single chapter I have ever read. You will need to read the chapters that come beforeChapter 10 of this book is perhaps the most perfect and beautiful single chapter I have ever read. You will need to read the chapters that come before and after it in order to appreciate it fully, but that isn't a bad thing as the whole book is wonderful. It is spare, quiet, hugely affecting. There are long stretches in which it seems like nothing is happening, yet even at these moments the story is working in its mysterious ways. ...more
I'm not sure how to review this book. The subject matter is so important, and Beah's courage and honesty in telling his story so significant, that itI'm not sure how to review this book. The subject matter is so important, and Beah's courage and honesty in telling his story so significant, that it seems the book should get five stars based on those factors alone. It is remarkable enough that Beah should have survived his ordeals as a child soldier, let alone healed to the point where he felt able to write about those experiences; it seems unreasonable to also hold his memoir to a literary standard that it does not quite meet. Suggesting that this memoir might have been written differently also feels uncomfortably like trying to tell Beah how he should respond to his own trauma, something I have neither the right nor the desire to do.
And yet, and yet....
For all the courage on display here (and Beah's tremendous personal courage really does shine through in this narrative), it feels like this book could have and should have done more. I wish I had felt more deeply drawn into the story, viscerally involved, implicated in the horror. The emotions aroused by a story like this should be complex, powerful, and difficult. Instead, this book allowed me to stand on the sidelines, shaking my head and saying, "Oh, how terrible!"
Beah's story can be divided into three sections. In the first, he flees and hides from both the Sierra Leone Army and the rebel forces, either of which might kill him or force him to fight. The second section covers the period after he has been forced into the army at age thirteen, and spends his days in a haze of violence and drugs. The third section, describing his rehabilitation and eventual flight from Sierra Leone, is the most effective part of the book. Beah shares more of his inner life during this period, and vividly evokes his struggle to return to normal life. Somehow, seeing the difficulty of recovering from his experiences in the army made the true nature of his ordeal feel more real than when he described the experiences themselves.
There can be no doubt that this is a memoir of deep trauma. It seems that describes his life as a soldier in simplistic, matter-of-fact language because he is not able to relive that time any more deeply than that. I would have liked a depiction of Beah's childhood before it was destroyed by the civil war, but it seems clear that he can hardly bring himself to remember that part of his life and measure the true extent of his loss. As a human, I can understand and respect why he is unwilling and unable to dig down into this material. But in literary terms, I think the book needed him to go there. ...more
I found Bazarov so utterly insufferable in the first hundred pages that it was impossible to care about anything that happened to him in the second huI found Bazarov so utterly insufferable in the first hundred pages that it was impossible to care about anything that happened to him in the second hundred.
Also, I think I was spoiled by reading the fantastic Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karnenina a few months ago. George Reavey's translation here seemed clunky and awkward in comparison, and I really missed the informative annotations....more