Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Humanity: To Look or Not

I find people, humans, utterly fascinating. What we can do to each other, what we can do to ourselves. Not just the good, but the bad and the ugly. I’m not sure if this is good trait of mine, but I can’t help looking. We are fascinating creatures.

I don’t want to trivialize it; I feel for humanity, I really do. My heart is easily broken, but I can’t stop looking.

Somedays I wonder how I can write, how I can do justice to the depth and complexity that is our humanity.

img3What got me in this pensive mood is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. I picked it up today, and I was crying by page 13. Within three hours, I’d read the whole thing, and cried several more times.

It’s one of those books you read, and you’ll never be the same again. It’s one of those stories that sticks with you forever. There are images in this book that I will never, ever forget.

After running from the rebels for a year, even living in the jungle alone (at twelve!) in order to stay safe, Ishmael Beah finally finds his way to a safe town that is protected by the army. But then the army needs him, and he has no choice but to become a soldier ... at thirteen.

Storytelling is an oral art still respected in his upbringing, and it’s clear that Beah inherited the talent. His book is one that was adopted by Starbucks for their stores, but it deserves it. He’s a gifted writer, and he didn’t need to be in order to publish this book. His story was that compelling, but it’s also that well told.

It feels important to be aware of the world, but I often wonder: if you can’t directly or even indirectly help, is their any good in being aware? Or do we just depress ourselves? It feels important to know and to feel for those in pain, even when we can’t help. But does it help anyone?

It does change our perspective. Maybe that’s the most important thing of all. But one does wish one could do something, you know?

Anyway, here’s quote from Publishers Weekly:

This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone’s civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare. Beah’s harrowing journey transforms him overnight from a child enthralled by American hip-hop music and dance to an internal refugee bereft of family, wandering from village to village in a country grown deeply divided by the indiscriminate atrocities of unruly, sociopathic rebel and army forces. Beah then finds himself in the army- in a drug-filled life of casual mass slaughter that lasts until he is 15, when he’s brought to a rehabilitation center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs. The process marks out Beah as a gifted spokesman for the center’s work after his "repatriation" to civilian life in the capital, where he lives with his family and a distant uncle. When the war finally engulfs the capital, it sends 17-year-old Beah fleeing again, this time to the U.S., where he now lives. (Beah graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.) Told in clear, accessible language by a young writer with a gifted literary voice, this memoir seems destined to become a classic firsthand account of war and the ongoing plight of child soldiers in conflicts worldwide. (Feb.)

8 bonus scribbles:

Holly Kennedy 3/21/2007 01:21:00 AM  

Oooh, now I just have to go out and buy this book. I'd heard it was good and your summary of it is so compelling on its own that I'm now determined to add it to my ever-growing stack... Thanks Spyscribbler!

spyscribbler 3/21/2007 01:24:00 AM  

I'm scared to ask how many you have in that stack, Holly!

Bernita 3/21/2007 08:06:00 AM  

"if you can’t directly or even indirectly help, is their any good in being aware"
One can't know if someday one might be able to help.

Such books are a reminder that the rest of the world does not operate on our schedule and our mores, and a reminder that historically,even in our cultures there was no extended childhood, one became an adult at that age.

spyscribbler 3/21/2007 12:50:00 PM  

This is very true. And kids really do start becoming adults at 10ish. Not full blown, but the seeds are there and starting to sprout.

By 12 and 13, they've got all the complexes adults have. Of course, they're still lacking in maturity and wisdom, but ... they really are pre-adults.

Sometimes I feel like society is obsessed with giving kids picture perfect childhoods, and with making that childhood last as long as possible. Personally, I'd rather be around when they lose their innocence, so I can teach them how to deal, navigate and cope with life as it really is.

Amie Stuart 3/21/2007 03:44:00 PM  

I saw this at my STarbucks and I've been meaning to pick it up. I think sometimes we need a reminder that the world is a much bigger place than just our own back yard.

avery 3/21/2007 09:34:00 PM  

Being conscious of the ills of the world proves our humanity. Since humans are too complex to revert to an unaware, 'innocent' animal-like state, the only thing plugging our ears and humming would do is reject our own nature.

You have a really good opportunity for a character development exercise here in your mental miasma: what's worse, a person who's aware and not doing anything or one who's clueless? Does being ignorant or being knowledgeable make one a better or worse person? Can a person who knew about some tragedy but did nothing ever redeem himself? Even if lives were lost in the period of time between his inaction and action?

Sorry to rant; you set my mind spinning with this posting!

Nicole Kelly 3/22/2007 02:15:00 PM  

Well, I've been trying to decide if I should pick up this book or not, but I'm definitely getting it now.

Thanks for the write up.

Nitu 4/26/2008 06:32:00 AM  

I have read the book recently. Indeed, so harrowing is to know that how much harm human beings can cause.
However, somewhere the good will prevails on our hearts. Fascinating indeed, isn't?