Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sierra Leone's boy soldiers profiled in prose

Thursday morning, Big White and I were lounging around the living room, watching "The Daily Show". The guest was Ishmael Beah. Beah recently released "A Long Way Gone", an account of his youth in Sierra Leone (i.e. the country Kanye West refers to in "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"). "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart continually praised Beah and his book during the interview. When it was over, both Big and I said the same thing exactly two seconds apart.
"Yo, I kind of want to read that."
Later in the day, I decided to brave the cold and walk down to Whole Foods to get something for dinner and eat free samples.
1.) Garlic and herb seasoned chicken
2.) Red garlic potatoes
3.) A baguette of honey, wheat bread
Then, I walked across the street to Starbucks. I enjoy the music they play, but that place always makes me both incredibly uncomfortable and massively self-conscious. I became way too sensitive to my every move. I felt like a tormented superhero.
I ordered a Café Mocha, no whipped cream, and while I was waiting, I checked out the various items on display at the counter. Norah Jones, The Shins, and, unbelievably, "A Long Way Gone". And they're even going to donate two bucks to UNICEF (minimum contribution: $100,000). What magnificent Americans we all were.
The book sitting there seemed like either:
A.) I was the exact person envisioned when Beah's publisher discussed ideas for marketing A Long Way Gone.
B.) This was a sign and I had no choice but to buy the book. And they donate to UNICEF. Starbucks is unbelievable. If I buy this book, I'm unbelievable.
I liked the idea of B.
Rushing home with my book, my baguette of fancy bread, and cup of potatoes, I felt like I was really doing something incredibly worldly and hippishly noble like I was some sort of superhero.
However, there is nothing like a good book to totally alter and dismantle your grandiose perception of yourself.
"A Long Way Gone" is the story of Beah's tragic and horrifying wanderings all over Sierra Leone when the country was being ravished by civil wars in the mid-90s. Beah gets separated from his family and his friends, meets up with new friends, and eventually is forced into serving in the army, fighting against the rebels he is now convinced are responsible for sending his life in such a horrible direction. Beah is transformed from a happy, young kid who loves dancing and listening to American hip-hop into a merciless killing machine functioning on a strict diet of marijuana, coke, and brown brown, a mixture of cocaine and gun powder.

Gut-wrenching and endlessly thought-provoking, Beah's story telling is epic in scale and boundless in heart. Through episodic adventures, Beah takes us all over Sierra Leone with lyrical prose and a simplistic tone. Not overdone with grand metaphors or unnecessary flashbacks, Beah lets his story do most of the work. His actions and emotions tell the story for him. Not overly polished or tailored for Hollywood, it is simply the harrowing account of a lost boy looking for his parents in a world where hope is a scarce commodity.
Tough to put down and tougher to forget, "A Long Way Gone", is one of those books you read that dominates you, and changes your way of thinking. It alters your memories of your own childhood and you think back to when you were 13 in the context of Beah's narrative.
For example, whenever Beah mentioned his age, the story goes from age 13 to 16, I thought back to my life at that age, and I wondered if my eyes could withstand seeing what Beah saw, and how I'd react. I doubt I'd have been even able to carry a gun at that age, let alone walk around the woods of Maine for years carrying it.
Beah's story is one of resiliency. It is a story of hope and confusion, and it's told in such a way that no emotion is spared.
I am not a superhero. Big White is not a superhero.
Ishmael Beah is a superhero, and "A Long Way Gone" is the incredible story of how one is made.

Link to Sierra Leone's boy soldiers profiled in prose - Entertainment