(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Like many stories of initiation, both fictional and nonfictional, Beah’s narrative is built around a journey. Like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Beah leaves home as an adolescent and experiences the world at its worst. Like Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Beah journeys into the jungles of Africa and encounters an uncivilized world filled with unspeakable human horrors. Unlike Marlow, however, Beah is unable to distance himself from the violence and merely report what he sees; he becomes an active participant in the horrific civil war that tore through Sierra Leone during the 1990’s.

Beah’s initiation is gradual. At home in Mogbwemo, Beah lives the life of a typical African adolescent. He attends school and fantasizes with friends about becoming a rap musician. Beah is gradually exposed to and ultimately lured into the violent civil war engulfing his homeland. First, he hears stories of violence from refugees fleeing attacked villages. After he commences his journey from home, he sees the bodies of murder victims in an automobile. Then, he encounters a man who has had his fingers removed and “RUF” carved into his chest with a hot bayonet. Later, the violence hits closer, as two of his traveling companions are killed by gunfire. Eventually, Beah is conscripted into the army and begins to commit the kind of acts that fuel the civil war. When Beah loses his conscience, feeling no remorse for his own violent actions, his...

(The entire section is 401 words.)