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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
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Great African Reads: Books > "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah

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Megara 🧿 (lovemegara) A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

Are there really no threads about this book? I find it depressing that Starbucks sells it.

Thoughts?


message 2: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i have this book and i've had it for quite awhile...but i have yet to read it. :(

why is it depressing that starbucks sells it?


Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I read it and thought it was good. Really sad to hear what the author went through. Not sure what you mean that it's depressing that Starbucks is selling it . . . ?


Judd Evans (judd1) | 11 comments I totally dug this book. I especially liked how a good deal of his story was about recovering from the trauma he experienced, a truly inspiring story! His mentioning of how easy it is to convert to violence and how challenging it is to recover his humanity was an interesting and fascinating insight... loved it!


Megara 🧿 (lovemegara) I really enjoyed this book, as well. I was surprised that no thread was started for this book yet because it is just a well-known one!

My comment about Starbucks was more of an anti-Starbucks comment than anything else.


Megara 🧿 (lovemegara) On a side note, I suggested this book to one of my friends and he said he wasn't interested in it. He thinks that once you've read one book about children soldiers, then you've read them all.

I couldn't object since this is the first I've read on the topic.


Alex Ha...no, I sorta get your friend's point. Which book about child soldiers has he already read?

I understand the Starbucks thing in a way...it depresses me when I see books (or music) that I really like sold at Starbucks. Somehow it makes me question my taste. Same as when I like a book that turns out to be in Oprah's book club. It probably means I'm a horrible snob.

I thought this book was tremendous.


message 8: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i try to turn my own snobbishness into pragmatism...when books like this end up with oprah or at starbucks, the author (and the problems/issues he or she is dealing with) gets a TON of exposure. this is a good thing! ;D

i guess i better move this one to the top of my stack pronto.

i'm curious to know the other book as well...i've read several books (memoirs) of children in horrendous conflicts, but i'm not sure they are soldier stories. i have to revisit them to be sure, though. has anyone read "they poured fire on us from the sky"? it's about Sudan.


Alex Yeah Marieke, I agree, that's a better way to think about it. It's only the small-minded part of me that gets snooty about this stuff. :)

I read Dave Eggers' "What is the What" last year - as you touched on, it's about children in horrendous conflicts, but not specifically child soldiers. Wonderful book.

Haven't read "They poured fire on us from the sky," but I've heard very good things about it. It'd be interesting if this thread (or another one) turned into a discussion / comparison of the several books about this topic.


message 10: by Judd (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judd Evans (judd1) | 11 comments I've read "The Translator" and thought it was quite good and also "Beasts of No Nation" which was fictional and written by a young author from Washington D.C., (I found this surprisingly to not be taking anything away from the work's validity but adding a certain element of identification), which I also thought to be very good. I enjoyed "What Is the What" too.


message 11: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i've worked hard to make my own small-mindedness as small as possible. not easy!
i wasn't sure if megara meant that it is depressing to confront happy-go-lucky latte seekers with tragic books like "a boy soldier." full disclosure: i do go to starbucks AND i once bought a book there.

i think that's a great idea, Alex...any strong opinions out there? keep the comparative discussion here or move it to a dedicated thread?


message 12: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Since Judd's already started, I'm all for keeping it here. (Not that I have a strong opinion either way.)

Judd, both of those sound amazing. Thanks for pointing them out. Adding them to my towering TBR list.



message 13: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I have not heard of "beasts of no nation"...looking forward to checking it out, though. I've also intended to get my hands on "the translator"...but first I must finally read the book that inspired this thread! Thank you, megara!


message 14: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex And it just occurred to me that I never even gave my opinion of "Long Way Gone." It's great. He's so...understated. Sortof matter-of-fact about it all. I think that style works well with this sort of book, because the horrors are so vivid that they speak for themselves, but I've heard folks complain that he doesn't get into his own thoughts - how it felt to live through this - as much as they'd like.

It's a very quick read, too; I blazed through it in just a few days.


message 15: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I think that if I had lived that, I would not want to relive it through writing. So I'm thinking the matter-of-factness is both understandable and also appropriate. The author is pretty active with outreach...I wonder if we could get him to join our discussion. Hmmm.

Tone could be an interesting subtopic of conversation I think. I thought "they poured fire on us" was amazing. I'll have to expand on that thought later.


message 16: by Judd (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judd Evans (judd1) | 11 comments I just remembered seeing Ishmael Beah on The Daily Show and just dug it up, it's from February 14, 2007. What a gracious guy, he shines, truly inspirational.


message 17: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
can you post the link here, Judd? that would be great to see!


message 18: by Judd (last edited Feb 22, 2010 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars


message 19: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex That was great! Thanks!


Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I read Beasts of No Nation and have What is the What sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. To be honest, I enjoyed A Long Way Gone more than Beasts of No Nation.

On the Starbucks thing -- I get what you are saying. I too cringe when I hear that I have read an Oprah's book club selection. But . . . like Marieke says, it's a good thing that they are trying to increase the audience for this book. I had a friend ask me if they "should" read it. I told her everyone "should" read it. I saw Mr. Beah on the Daily Show too and thought he was amazing. He comes across as such a gracious and quiet soul. I wouldn't in a million years have pictured him as a child soldier. It does give one pause as to how quickly/easily we might all adapt our behavior if we found ourselves in a similarly chaotic situation. It's just unimaginable what they went through. Hopefully this doesn't spoil the book for those of you who have not yet read it (if you don't want anything given away, then stop reading here) -- but it was so awful the way they had no idea what the cause of the conflict was and/or who the good guys were vs. the bad guys. It was just chaos and violence for no purpose or gain. Really sad -- and still happening in many conflict zones.

Have any of you heard about Invisible Children which focuses on rehabilitating the child soldiers from Uganda? It's a non-profit group (not a book). They had a documentary that I saw which was pretty compelling. If you're interested in this subject you should check it out.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I would cringe more if Starbucks was promoting a book that was generally considered to be meaningless tripe. We ask large corporations to be accountable and responsible. If one of the ways that Starbucks engages in that process is to promote A Long Way Gone, better that than something like Confessions of A Shopaholic.


message 22: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Again, I want to make it clear that I can't defend myself about the Starbucks thing. I'm a horrible person. I agree with y'all, the idea that Starbucks is encouraging its soulless yuppie clientele to read great books is terrific.

Wendy, I LOVED "What is the What." I think even people who thought "A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius" was a little too...self-aware would like "What is the What." It's phenomenal.

Invisible Children looks so cool! We're slowly putting together a list of non-profits to donate to on a rotating monthly basis (because it's a fun thing to debate while getting drunk with my wife); we might add that one to the list. Thanks for the heads up.


message 23: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I totally agree, shoshana...and unrelated to our reading habits, starbucks has actually done quite a lot to push the envelope when it comes to fair trade. starbucks is simply not as evil as we'd all like it to be! i feel the same way about oprah...i'm actually quite impressed by a lot of her selections and i think she is actually a very serious reader. i don't think that should be scoffed at. i've worked hard to feel this way, btw! i completely understand wendy's cringing--i'm guilty of it myself. i think it's simply the herd mentality that is off-putting and that somehow oprah isn't perceived as serious...because she's on in the afternoon and not the evening? she airs on a network and not PBS? women in the middle east LOVE her. i think that's really cool.


message 24: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex But scoffing is the only way my cold, black heart can feel joy!


message 25: by Judd (last edited Feb 22, 2010 02:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judd Evans (judd1) | 11 comments http://s0.ilike.com/play#Mike+Doughty...

-- I guess this link isn't working... It was to the song "Busting up a Starbucks" by Mike Doughty that I found fitting to the debate.


message 26: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
lol. i don't intend to deny anyone a good bout of scoffing!


message 27: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex That link sortof didn't work for me. There's a clip here:
http://www.ilike.com/artist/Mike+Doug...

Oh hey, it's the singer from Soul Coughing. Cool.


message 28: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
oh geez. soul coughing. i feel very old right now. thanks alex and judd! hahaha.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

I thought What is the What was very accessible, and that it raised interesting questions about what constitutes a memoir or ethnography versus fiction.


message 30: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Shoshanapnw, I agree; the tag "Fictionalized autobiography" is interesting. I read some interviews with Eggers about it, and he said the reason was that they found that Deng couldn't remember some important conversations or episodes well enough to promise their accuracy, and some reshaping of tangential events helped the flow of the story. From the Washington Post review, which I just saw on Amazon:

"Valentino, who survived almost 15 years of civil war and refugee-camp exile before coming to the United States in 2001, in fact does exist, but the book that purports to be his autobiography is actually a fictional recreation by Eggers. No secret is made of the fact that some of the characters in the book are composites, some episodes are invented, and much of the storyline has been reordered and reshaped for narrative effect. The result, however, is a document that -- unlike so many "real" autobiographies -- exudes authenticity."

I take the book to be true in all the important ways, and I think it was smart of Eggers and Deng to tag it a novel, so as to preemptively answer any charges of inauthenticity and focus readers on the truth that it's about, rather than the truth of the specific words.


message 31: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I also really liked how Eggers decided to handle valentino's story. some of my favorite parts were valentino's initial interactions with americans. although some of it made me rather embarrassed for my fellow americans.

i found my copy of Beah's book, and i got copies from the library of the translator and also beast of no nation. i'm trying to wrap up a memoir by a teenager who got involved in the Chad civil war in the early 1980s so i'll post some thoughts here when i finish it. i got it out of the library for our Chad portion of the book club but a different book was selected. so i set it aside, but now it's due back (shortly). anyway, it's not a super easy read but i think it's perfect for this discussion about child soldiers.Teenager in the Chad Civil War: A Memoir of Survival, 1982-1986


Melanie | 171 comments Alex wrote: "And it just occurred to me that I never even gave my opinion of "Long Way Gone." It's great. He's so...understated. Sortof matter-of-fact about it all. I think that style works well with this s..."

Alex, I felt the same way about his book. He seemed to just tell it like it was and didn't seem to feel the need to embellish, which I liked.


Melanie | 171 comments Marieke wrote: "i try to turn my own snobbishness into pragmatism...when books like this end up with oprah or at starbucks, the author (and the problems/issues he or she is dealing with) gets a TON of exposure. th..."

I've read both "They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky" and "What is the What". I really liked both books. They Poured Fire seem to be very straight forward and matter-of-fact, like Long Way Gone.

I have Beasts of No Nation sitting on my bookshelf but haven't picked it up yet.


message 34: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Melanie, I've read What is the What too, and I thought it was wonderful; better (a little) than A Long Way Gone. As good as that was, I think it's the raw experience, and What is the What is the raw experience filtered through one of the great writers of our time.

It feels a little uncomfortable to say that, because there's a race issue: am I really saying I prefer my African stories told by honkies? It feels icky. But I actually think Eggers is one of our finest writers. I think Beah is a tough guy and a good writer, but I don't think he can match Eggers.

I guess the thing is, there are people who can tell a story competently, and there are great writers; I think Beah is competent, and I'm so glad I've heard his story, and I think Eggers is something special. There are obviously great African writers, but we're in a phase right now, and Eggers is one of our greats, and he's dipped his toe in it.

Ugh, how gross is it that African genocide is a genre? It sortof is, though. And now I feel bad.


message 35: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Alex wrote: "Melanie, I've read What is the What too, and I thought it was wonderful; better (a little) than A Long Way Gone. As good as that was, I think it's the raw experience, and What is the What is the r..."

i don't think you should worry, alex...i think some of us are simply more accustomed to so-called western literature, so it is more comfortable, more familiar, and more readily matches our concept of "beauty" than something that comes from outside of that. i think that african cultures (and others) have long long long long histories of oral storytelling that don't transfer so well to the written page. the "western world" lost that tradition a long time ago. anyway, i think that is part of the problem for westerners reading african memoirs and novels: something about them is unfamiliar...also i think african literature is still developing, whereas western literature did most of its stylistic development one and two centuries ago (something like that). this is actually one reason why i love reading african and arab novels...writers use the western novel framework but retain an authenticity so i never feel like i am reading a european or american author. i like to read europeans, but i also like to read africans and arabs. the experiences, however, are very different for me. but, for some western readers the african novel is simply never quite as appealing as its european counterpart---i don't see this as elitist or racist in any way; it's just that aesthetics are deeply personal. anyway, in a sense the Esteemed Honky Dave Eggers has served as a translator, taking an oral history from an african person and transferring it to a form/style that is familiar to a western (not just white! i am not using white and western interchangeably) audience. maybe? i'm not a historian or literature professor or anything, these are just my thoughts and guesses.


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree with much of what you say, and I enjoyed reading Beah, but I also agree that there are different levels of skill in telling a story. I have read hundreds of memoirs from many countries and literary traditions, and many are very interesting and quite moving while falling firmly into the "memoir" category, while others could also be called "literature." Beah's story is a story--this happened, then this, then this. Eggers has told Valentino's story using the stylistic devices of western literature--not just a life narrative, but a frame story, parallelism, language choices, foreshadowing, and other techniques.


Caroline (yahyah) A Long Way Gone was a good book. Like Melanie stated Beah didn't embellish. At least not enough for me. That's the only issue I have. I don't know if he did it as not to scare readers away or because it was simply something he didn't want to recall in great detail, but when it comes to child soldiers and wars in general, we need to be afraid. We need the grit, the tears, and the gore. We don't have the right to not be horrified.

I just finished up They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan didn't hold back on the desperation, cruelity, and fear the brothers had trying to escape from Sudan moving from refugee camp to refugee camp. Say You're One of Them also had a selection of short stories told by children of their wartime/exodis experiences (My Parent's Bedroom in particular was just....)


message 38: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Caroline wrote: "A Long Way Gone was a good book. Like Melanie stated Beah didn't embellish. At least not enough for me. That's the only issue I have. I don't know if he did it as not to scare readers away or becau..."

hi caroline, i really loved "they poured fire on us from the sky." i read it several years ago so now i can't remember if the boys were refugees only or got caught up in soldiering as well. i think those experiences must be very different even if they are both about survival. but i agree that "they poured fire" affected me more deeply than "a long way gone." at the moment i'm not sure why, but it might have to do with the language. i found the language in "they poured fire" to be beautifully descriptive. however, i thought beah's personal process of redemption was quite compelling. i think that was the part of the book i got the most out of...how people heal.

i'm wondering if Beah isn't able to give readers the visceral experience they want because he was basically on drugs the whole time he was a soldier...not sure. i'm not sure he experienced inside what we imagine he experienced, high on brown-brown. in fact, it's the use of drugs that is the only thing that makes me understand these horrific conflicts and how people are capable of killing each other so brutally.

i just finished "beasts of no nation." i'm still processing it. i've only managed to read the first story in uwem akpan's collection of stories so far. i was expecting to read them one after the other, but i couldn't do it. i tried to start the second story, but i was still thinking about the first one.


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