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The book “A Long Way Gone” is about a boy named Ishmael Beah who lives in Sierra Leone. Ishmael Beah was born in 1980 and lived in a village with his mother, father, and two little brothers. In 1991, the Sierra Leone Civil War started. Rebels invaded Beah’s hometown, Mogbwemo, located in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, and he was forced to flee. Separated from his family, he spent months wandering south with a group of other boys. At the age of 14, he was forced to become a child soldier. According to Beah’s account, he fought for almost three years before being rescued by UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund). The main message that the author is trying to convey to the audience is that war and manipulation can turn innocence into evil.
When Ishmael was a little boy he lived in a village with his family. At ten years old his brother Junior taught him about hip-hop and they later started a dance group with his friends, Talloi and Khalilou. He spent his days going to school, performing in talent shows with his dance group, and listening to his cassette player. When refugees started to come to Ishmael’s village he was confused about the stories that happened to people. He thought that their stories were exaggerated and the only wars he knew where from books and movies such as Rambo: First Blood. “My imagination at ten years old didn’t have the capacity to grasp what had taken away the happiness of the refugees.”
When Ishmael was first touched by war he was 12 years old. He left home with Junior and friends, Talloi and Khalilou. They were walking to a village to perform at a talent show when their home was attacked by rebels. The group of boys had no home and no one to turn to, so they had no other choice than to continue moving and to get as far away from the rebels as possible. Over the next two years Ishmael was fleeing from village to village trying to survive. He was separated from Junior after an attack, only a few weeks after leaving home for the talent show. He encountered many attacks and near-death experiences over the years. Dead bodies littered every village and road that the rebels and government passed though. Innocent people were killed for no reason in front of him countless of times. He became numb to every experience and had nightmares. He was constantly scared and tired. He was eventually recruited by the government to become a soldier. All the boys in the army where around thirteen but some were as young as seven. The lieutenant and their superiors told the boys that the rebels had to be killed because they were the ones who killed the boys’ friends and family. The boys were praised after every kill they made and where given drugs to cope will their anxiety. Ishmael’s first battle was when he was no longer an innocent, scared boy and became angry and vengeful. “I have never been so afraid to go anywhere in my life as I was that day…I Lay there with my gun pointed in front of me, unable to shoot.” Ishmael saw all of the death around him and thought of his friends and family. He became so angry that he began shooting. “Every time I stopped to change magazines and saw my two lifeless friends, I angrily pointed my gun into the swamp and killed more people”
For the next three years he was fighting for the government. Killing became an everyday occurrence and Ishmael was proud of all the rebels he murdered. He was eventually rescued by UNICEF and learned how he was manipulated into becoming a soldier. He had migraines and bad nightmares from all the horrors he witnessed. At this safe haven, he was rehabilitated and was reunited with his uncle whom he had never met. Ishmael uncles and cousins help him through the trauma. Yet he was still broken. He later became a child activist, speaking at the United Nations. At 18 years old Ishmael fled Sierra Leone after Kabala (a city in Serra Leone) was attacked by the rebels. He feared to become a soldier once again and made the decision to leave his family in search of refuge. Ishmael used many rhetorical strategies to help convey his message. One rhetorical strategy he used was by writing his book about his personal experience. Opposed to writing a book with facts and statistics about child soldiers the reader is listening to his story. This way the reader can understand what Ishmael was feeling and thinking in this environment. The reader can understand how terrible and sick this topic is by the detail given by Ishmael.
Another rhetorical strategy that Ishmael used were two themes, Warfare and Manipulation. Ishmaels was manipulated by the commanding officers, telling him to kill to avenge his family. He was then praised for his efforts with drugs and movies. Pretty soon, Ishmael is a killing machine. He became such a good solider that he was recruited as a junior lieutenant and lead his own attacks. He had no remorse for anyone and only wanted to get back at the rebels for the pain they have caused him. The other theme is warfare, this theme explains how communities disintegrate as people struggle to survive and protect their families. Ordinary men and women have to learn to kill. When Ishmael finally escapes the conflict, it’s clear that nothing has been accomplished. No side has ‘won.’ And countless lives including our author’s have been destroyed in the process. Last but not least another rhetorical strategy used is tone. The entire book has a very dignified and serious tone. Every single village that’s raided and each person who dies gets the sincere description they deserve. The book also gives us glimpses of many terrifying moments. The scary part is that they are mixed in with average day to day things. The terrors of war become another part of daily life.
The strengths in the book were Ishmael’s detail to what it was like living in a war zone and how his book is told from a child’s perspective. Ishmael describes living in a war zone by communicating all the violence he experienced. For example, “My face, my hands, my shirt, and gun were covered with blood. I raised my gun and pulled the trigger, and I killed a man.” This allows the reader to understand what he was going through and they can put themselves in his shoes. People in many countries do not know what it’s like to be living in this environment. The reader is shown how cruel people can be to one another. Another strength the book had is how it is told from a child’s point of view as opposed to many books where the protagonist is an adult. For example, “That night, as I sat on the verandah listening to some of the boys discuss the volleyball game I had missed, I tried to think about my childhood days, but it was impossible, as I began getting flashbacks of the first time I slit a man’s throat.” This is a great example of how Ishmael’s normal childhood experiences clash with the violence and trauma in his life. This is an interesting thing about the book because people want to know what a child’s war experience would be like.
There were weaknesses in the book as well. Ishmael did not explain what had happened to him once he left Sierra Leone. He said he left the country and illegally went to Conakry. He said he didn’t know what he would do there once he arrived. The audience wants to know what his life is like after he escaped the war. The book also had a confusing ending. Ishmael ended the book with a story that one of the elders from his village told. It was abrupt and didn’t wrap up the book well. He was trying to use symbolism with this childhood story but in my opinion, it was confusing and left me wanting more. The book is overall an amazing reference to know what it’s like living in a war zone. It explains how people who do bad things aren’t necessarily bad people. You learn a lot about how people can change under stressful circumstances. Ishmael explains his main message well. The reader may wonder if he or she would make the kind of decisions the children made. This book will make the audience think about his or her character.
I think the book was amazing. This book will show the average reader that their lives could always be worse and to be grateful for what they have. Ishmael’s story makes the reader think of all the things they take for granted. It also shows the inderance and strength people have. Ishmael experienced a lot of trauma and had no immediate family to help him through his pain. Yet he still learned from his challenges and became a better person. I have never experienced war and never lost family or friends in my life. I put myself in Ishmael’s shoes and I can’t imagine how I would feel or what I would do if I was in that situation. Thinking about losing my sister the way Ishmael lost his brother brings tears to my eyes. I always thought that people were born good, but their experiences and how they handled them was what made them a good or a bad person. I think Ishmael would agree to this thought. Ishmael taught me that just because people do bad things doesn’t mean they are bad people. When you go through so much pain happiness seems so far out of reach it can be hard to see things the same way. People can always choose who they want to be and choose if they want to change.
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