The Common Reading Book selection for 2015 is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah.
Ishmael Beah was born in 1980 in the nation of Sierra Leone. While Beah was still a young boy, his country descended into a horrific civil war, and Beah was forced to flee his village when rebels brutally attacked. After wondering the country, a place the book’s promotional materials describe as “rendered completely unrecognizable by violence,” Beah was picked up as a young teenager by the government army. While still at heart a gentle boy, he was nevertheless pressed into service as a government guerrilla soldier. Beah both witnessed and sometimes participated in some truly terrible acts, but the story does not end there, limited only to tragedy: Beah was, eventually, released by the Sierra Leon government army, and he was sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center where struggled to regain his humanity and to learn how to reenter the world of civilians, for the first time, as an adult.
Numerous critics have praised A Long Way Gone. Author Jeannette Walls says, the book “hits you hard in the gut with Sierra Leone’s unimaginable brutality, and then it touches your soul with unexpected acts of kindness. Ishmael Beah’s story tears your heart to pieces and then forces you to put it back together again, because if Beah can emerge from such horror with his humanity intact, it’s the least you can do.” Walter Isaacson calls the book, “a wrenching, beautiful, and mesmerizing tale,” and Steve Coll sums the reviews up well when he says, “this is a beautifully written book about a shocking war and the children who were forced to fight it. Ishmael Beah describes the unthinkable in calm, unforgettable language; his memoir is an important testament to the children elsewhere who continue to be conscripted into armies and militias.”
Over the next few months, Appalachian faculty and members of the Common Reading Committee will be assembling teaching aids and supplemental materials for the Welcome Week book-discussion leaders, as well as First Year Seminar instructors. (If you are faculty or staff, and would like to lead a book-discussion during Welcome Weekend, on Saturday, August 15, 2014, please contact Colin Ramsey at email@example.com, by May 1, 2015.) Convocation will be held on Thursday, September 3, and will feature a talk by Beah.
If you have questions or comments, or if you would like additional information, please contact:
Dr. Colin T. Ramsey
Director, Appalachian Common Reading Program
Associate Professor of English
Sanford Hall, ASU
Boone, NC 28692