My reading list stays on the continent of Africa as we move from South Africa, the locale for Disgrace, up to Sierra Leone and Ishmael Beah's stunning memoir A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
The voices of young men (and women) from Africa are finally starting to be heard... I want to add "and not a moment too soon"... but more accurately, it is several years too late. But alas it takes a while to become a survivor.
Early this year, I attended a book signing by Valentino Achak Deng of Dave Eggers' novel What Is The What... the "autobiography" of Deng and his survival and escape from Darfur to a new life in America (I know confusing, click that link to read my review). Beah's memoir was lumped into this emerging African memoir grouping, so I was aware of it back then... but an appearance of Beah on The Daily Show pretty much sealed the deal to get the book. You can usually tell whether Jon Stewart has read or not read a book ... and even our fellow cynic Steward appeared genuinely moved by his story.
As you can guess, my "to be read" book pile is quite high... so Todd read it first. I would regularly ask him how it was... and while he would say it was good, it was tempered by a mix of disbelief and awe... that one, these kind of things happen in the world... and two, that Beah lived to tell. It sort of sounded like my experience when I read What... so I buckled myself down for a harrowing read...
...and that's pretty much what I got. Ishmael, an engaging 12-year old with a love of American rap music and Shakespeare, innocently takes a day-trip to another village with some friends... while away, rebel invade his village, burning it to the ground and murdering much of its population. Not knowing whether his parents are alive, he becomes a refugee... constantly trying to find food and safety... by staying ahead (or behind) the rebel forces, but often being mistaken for one. As the title suggests, hardly being able to hold a gun... he becomes a soldier (more accurately, a drug-addicted killing machine) fighting against the rebels... and that's just half of the story!
Certainly some tough stuff, but what makes both Beah and Deng's stories bearable to read is such a sense of optimism and spirit, even when all seems to be lost... granted this is because they have lived to tell, but this is often the most inspiring part of a survivor's story... the 'ole triumph of the human spirit.
This particular passage, early in the book, stuck with me...
When I was a very little, my father used to say, "If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die." I thought about these words during my journey, and they kept me moving even when I didn't know where I was going. Those words became the vehicle that drove my spirit forward and made me stay alive.
Yes, there was a reason Beah survived ... and I was holding that hardcover, 214 page evidence in my very hands.
2007 10K Reading Challenge: + 214 pages (Total Pages: 5394 pages)