We have all heard about the conflicts, despair, poverty, genocide and what not, taking place in different parts of Africa. The Dark continent - as it is called - has been a very ignored part of our planet. While we are busy in our daily lives, worrying about taxes, governments, terrorists, economy, poverty and disease, there are children dying an anonymous death in inhospitable environments.

A Long way gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah is one book I picked up on recommendation from, who else, Sari Bua...My guide to good book read. This bestselling novel is a true story of the author and his experiences as a twelve year old, growing up in civil war stricken Sierra Leone. When rebels attack his village, Ishmael and his friends are forced to run for their lives, because they know that if they are caught, they'd be forced to join the rebel army. For months together, they continue to evade the rebels, running through thick forests, villages, losing friends and family on the way, while the rebel army continues to systematically destroy the nation, pillaging, raping and murdering indiscriminately. 

After months of evading, Beah and his friends find themselves in a village controlled by the National Army. They think they are safe in the village but the army compels him to fight against the rebels, as a revenge for the atrocities against him and his family. Despite being so young, Ishmael readily joins the cause and fights for over 2 years, turning into a cold-blooded killer who goes about killing and maiming others. He lives a constantly drug-induced life with an endless supply of marijuana. Though he starts out thinking he is fighting for a good cause, he finds himself descending further and further into moral decay.

He is taken to Freetown and handed over to a UNICEF rehabilitation program where he struggles to overcome his drug addiction and also to give up his violent past. It takes a lot of time and effort on his part to be integrated into what is termed as a "civilised society".

The story is a grim reminder of all the trials and tribulations of children in other parts of the world..that children are spending their childhood with guns and bombs. While Beah was able to escape this life to a better one in America, about 300,000 child soldiers are still in Sierra Leone, trying to get back to a normal life.  The story also makes us wonder about the vulnerability of a young mind and how a good person was lured into killer ways. Though the ending might seem pretty abrupt, it is still a good read.

A LONG WAY GONE is an important book and is worth the read. Especially for those of us who have had a well sheltered and protected childhood, and how lucky we are. It should make us sit up and take notice that children who should enjoy their childhood, are left to fend for themselves and being turned into cold-blooded killers, as we  continue to struggle with something as petty as traffic. It surely makes us think.



My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life. “Why did you leave Sierra Leone?” “Because there is a war.” “Did you witness some of the fighting?” “Everyone in the country did.” “You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?” “Yes, all the time.” “Cool.” I smile a little. “You should tell us about it sometime.” “Yes, sometime.”


We have all heard the story of Anne Frank, which familiarized us with the atrocities on jews in Nazi Germany. In the ranks of those war time classics, is NIGHT by Elie Wiesel. This little known Nobel Prize Winning book is a horryfying account of a time when the world watched the cruelty as silent spectators. 

 Elie Wiesel, author and narrator of NIGHT, a true story of the Holocaust, managed to live through Hitler’s criminal atrocities and write down his experiences in the concentration camps. He begins his dramatic stories in 1941 in the small city of Sighet located in Transylvania. Elie, a young boy , along with his family of four, found them selves bombarded and split up by the Hitler lead Germans and deported to nearby concentration camps. Throughout the book, Wiesel explains his experiences with the belief in God, what provides for him and others a will to live, and the important realities of life. 

An important theme and aspect of Night to me is how beliefs and ways of thinking can change during a person’s life and how these ways change throughout the book. It is easy to understand that such an awful experience to a young child can change his ways of thinking, especially about life in general. How can seeing so many people die in such harsh ways not make a child around the age of fifteen see life as unfair and worthless?  As I read through the book, I slowly began to realize, due to Wiesel’s amazing descriptions and ability to allow the reader to feel how he was felt, how a person could go through this drastic change in faith. Elie begins his horrible journey with a complete faith in God, and an amazing will to learn as much as possible about his own religion. He even goes against his father’s rules to find a person, Moshe the Beadle, which can help him accomplish this. However, when in the summer of 1944 he is deported to Aushwitz and his encounters begin to add up, he slowly starts to question the truths about God and even God’s own existence. Young Elie first begins to question God when he states, “What are You, my God, compared to this afflicted crowd…What does Your Greatness mean, Lord of the universe…” As the story proceeds, he goes on to explain how he was “the accuser,” and “God the accused…terribly alone in a world without God” .In another instance he imagines God as the one on the podium, being hung, instead of the Jews. Furthermore, Elie even begins going against his religion’s rituals and does not fast during the proper week. He is forced to believe that the only way he could live is not with God’s help, but with his own gut feelings. 

After reading and examining Wiesel’s written work, I definitely began to understand young Elie’s reasoning on religion, and even understood how he could almost put more faith and trust in to Hitler due to Hitler’s ability to keep a promise, even though Hitler’s loyalty is what ultimately lead to millions of deaths. Without Wiesel’s incorporation of dialogue from characters and his own thoughts of religion, I do not think I could have been so persuaded

 Now that Elie’s will to live was not under his faith in God, another theme arises in his search for a will to live and survive.. I feel like Night stands for the only actual good part of their imprisonment at the concentration camps. Sleep was always a necessity and need for the imprisoned Jews. It was part of the hope for survival; therefore, a will to live. Next, being a child, his initial basis and reason for survival was because he is never separated from his father. Being able to stay in close quarters with his father allows him to remain strong and have a helping hand to fall back on. However, as the story progresses, his father begins to become ill and Elie is obligated to not only fight for his own survival, but also his father’s. This situation begins with Elie’s fight to stay with his dad, but turns out to become his will to survive. Instead of placing his mind on surviving through Hitler’s wishes, he puts his thoughts and energy on keeping his father alive, which ultimately leads to his own survival. To further create this theme, Wiesel introduces two characters that portray the extents people will go to in order to survive. Nearing the end of the novel, the Jews are forced to run for forty-two miles to Gleitwitz. During this expedition, Elie watches as two characters, the Rabbi and his son, lose each other due to the son running away to drop the dead weight of his old father. At first, Elie is appalled of this nature, but slowly begins to realize the same with his own father.
Another huge example and theme that Wiesel emphasizes as a will to live is the fight for food throughout the account. Inside the concentration camps, the prisoners are rationed very small amounts of food, if not deprived. Young Elie along with all of the other prisoners yearns for as much soup, bread, and water as possible. The imprisonment begins with people wanting to aid in the survival of other prisoners with the sharing of their personal supplies. It was their need for survival. However, as time passes, Elie witnesses many horrible accounts of almost animal like behavior. From Meir beating and stealing from his father on the train to masses of people killing each other to obtain the last bite of bread, Elie could not believe how such a situation could change the actions of civilized people. 

 With the shock of feeling it would be okay to let his father die for his own survival to the realizations of how people can change under intense circumstances, other themes are incorporated when Elie begins to find many astonishments about the truths, realities, and harshness of life. Along with these realizations, Elie most importantly finds out the truth of death, and at only the young age of fifteen. Elie witnesses more deaths than most people could even imagine. He not only sees corpses lying in snow and being smothered by other dying people, but he also witnesses the brutal death of innocent people through cremation, hangings, starvation, beatings, and even pure sadness. He also observes how and why people could not maintain the will to live, even though he is able to maintain it the whole time. He learns about inhumanity through the actions of the Germans. This goes right along with death, but he could not believe how he and the others were treated like animals. At one point, Elie states how he felt like “cattle or merchandise” as the prisoners were lined up, pointed at, and “selected.” 

In the preface to the book, Robert Brown describes how some people either do not believe in the horrific mass killing or do not care about it. Night was created to give an account that these awful events did occur, and Wiesel does a great job to get the effectiveness of the event across to his readers. To manage this, he is able to include characters like his father, who represents Elie’s main hope of survival and will to live; Madam Schachter, who represents the scary, psychological, but honest aspects of the event; and Elie’s friends (the brothers), who represent the need to work together; which all are apparent themes of the novel. Wiesel also used these characters to show how others were feeling, enabling readers to understand that everyone maintained different feelings and beliefs of the situation. Because of the ability to incorporate all of these measures, Wiesel intended for all people to be able to read and learn from his experiences. Sometimes people can be ignorant to the aspects, feelings, and events in life. Wiesel created this book so that for years to come, people will be able to believe and understand the cruelty, harshness, and reality not only of the Holocaust, but other events that could possibly occur in life.