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.