When I first looked at the audiobook of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, I was not sure whether I wanted to listen. I have been to several very violent movies lately - Pan's Labyrinth, The Last King of Scotland, and Flags of Our Fathers - all of which were good and I recommend them all - but I feel somewhat shell shocked. I imagined that listening to A Long Way Gone might just worsen my feeling. Could I stand to listen to over seven hours of jungle war?
I want to know what is going on in the world and I am especially interested in anything about Africa, so I started the first disc, knowing that I could stop at any time. I found that the chaos and heartbreak start very quickly, but I also discovered a great story that reminds me of the novels of Charles Dickens, in that the plot takes many unexpected turns and a young boy is saved time and time again by new benefactors. I can almost imagine A Long Way Gone being serialized, with each episode ending with Ishmael in trouble again. Of course, it is different in that Dickens novels were never so bloody, but like the classic English author, Beah has a topic to expose to the public - the sorrow of boy soldiers.
I have been surprised by how popular A Long Way Gone is. Since I do not drink coffee, I do not go in Starbuck's and did not see it prominently on sale at its shops everywhere. I hate to see bookstores losing sales to other corporate interests, but the bookstores may have benefited from the publicity for the book this time. Starbuck's certainly got an unlikely book to many readers.
If you want to know more before reading the book, you can read an interview with Beah at Powells.com. If you want another book about boy soldiers, try the novel Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala.
Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. ISBN 0374105235
Audiobook: 7 CDs. Santa Ana, CA : Books on Tape, p2007. ISBN 1415938032