Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

★ ★ ★ ★
Ishmael Beah was a young man of about 12 years growing up in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s when civil war broke out.  He was caught away from home with some school friends when the rebels got to his home village.  The boys traveled together for several months trying to find their families, roaming from village to village, sometimes able to work for a bit of food.  More often they had to steal it and run because of the villagers' fears of them because the rebels were forcibly recruiting young men of their age group into the rebel army.  Eventually they found some safety in a village controlled by the national army.  That safety ended when the Lieutenant there forcibly recruited their group into the national army.  One of those recruited was only 7 years old and couldn't even lift his rifle to a firing position.  Beah served in the army for about a year from my best guess, the timeline was a bit iffy in his memoir.  Then the boys were given freedom and sent to the national capital for rehabilitation.

This book was a quick read and a page turner.  I kept being amazed at the way the boys were treated by various adults in the towns they passed and by their army leaders.  The whole country had gone crazy and any stranger had to be mistrusted.  In addition, boys subjected to that kind of violence and forced to kill other boys they know have been forced into uniform for the other side do not rehabilitate quickly or easily.

It reminded me of a quote out of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: "It will go pretty hard with us all.  But nobody at home seems to worry about it much.  Two years of shells and bombs--a man won't peel that off as easy as a sock."

Certainly not.  Ishmael and his friends didn't; in fact some of them never did.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean by David Cordingly

★ ★ ★
Read for the non-fiction adventure challenge and I'll eventually figure out how to make this post a link from that book in the list.  In the meantime, a review of Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean.

David Cordingly writes about pirates.  I enjoyed his Under the Black Flag from 2006 very much so I was excited for this one.  I only rated this three stars because I didn't feel like most of the book pertained to the promised subject based on the title.  The Pirate Hunter referenced there is Woodes Rogers.  Rogers became Governor of the Bahamas with a special commission from the King to help the colony become more profitable and to take care of the pirate menace operating out of Nassau.  A significant part of the book is devoted to Rogers past as a privateer who circumnavigated the world in an attempt to capture the Spanish treasure galleon coming from Manila to Acapulco.  Assorted other adventures of his are told and much is made of his money problems.  Once he gets to Nassau, Rogers tries to rebuild the colony and commissions several captains to hunt pirates.  Over time the pirates are thinned but Rogers becomes disillusioned by lack of communication and pay from England.  He abandons Nassau to go to South Carolina for rest and then travels back to England.  After initially losing his governorship he finally regains it and goes back to Nassau again.  By this time the pirates are largely gone from the area.  So far so good, but not much 'pirate hunting' by Rogers himself.

Another large part of the book is taken up with the life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk who may have been part of Daniel Defoe's inspiration for Robinson Crusoe.  Selkirk spent large parts of his life on privateers (definition: pirate commissioned by one government to attack settlements and ships of another nation).  He chose to be marooned on an island alone and spent over four years there before another English ship came along and rescued him.  His life is followed in several different chapters and while interesting, I kept wondering what it had to do with the presumed subject of the book.  At the end of the book a substantial number of pages were employed in speculation on whether Selkirk was indeed Defoe's inspiration and if not, which other marooned men might be likely candidates.  Again, interesting but seems off-topic.

Finally, there was a whole section devoted to the life and death of Blackbeard.  Interesting but not enough detail to provide any new insights for a reader who has previous knowledge in the area of pirates, so like Selkirk it became a distraction.  Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean was not a bad book, I just felt like it lacked focus on the presumed theme.