Lap tops and rolls of quarters for the laundry aren’t the only “must have” items on student checklists for college. At NAU, incoming freshmen also are bringing their reactions to a story about war through the eyes of a child soldier.
As part of their acclimation to NAU, each student who attended summer orientation was given a copy of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. The book was selected for this year’s Summer Reading Program because it offers a perspective that many students will find compelling, said Anne Scott, coordinator of the reading program and interim director of the Honors Program.
“The book’s many themes—growing up, education, ethnicity, racism, suffering and redemption, survival, community, family, violence—lend themselves to far-reaching discussions,” Scott said.
In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now 26, tells the riveting story of how at the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By 13, he had been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.
After three years as a soldier, a truck pulled into the army base and Beah and other young soldiers were released by their commander to UNICEF workers. Sent to a rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity.
Now in its ninth year at NAU, the Summer Reading Program provides incoming freshmen with a common experience as they begin their college careers. Once on campus, students can use the book to initiate conversations and build community with their new classmates, roommates and instructors.
Faculty and staff will lead group discussions on A Long Way Gone at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, as part of NAU’s Welcome Week, engaging students in an exploration of the book’s style, plot, themes, concerns and implications.
“The discussions introduce first-year students to the pleasures and rigors of academic dialogue and give them an important opportunity to form connections with faculty and staff and also with their peers,” Scott said.
She said in addition to finding relevance to the book’s themes, it also was selected because it can help create more awareness of Africa and African conflicts, people and culture.
“We live in a global culture and want to promote the values and ideas from other cultures from our own,” she said. “Ishmael Beah’s experiences as a child soldier in his home country of Sierra Leone are profoundly moving. We wanted students to be more than just aware of this situation in Africa; we wanted them to open their eyes to the entire interconnection between and among race, ethnicity, drugs, politics, war, violence and community.”
Information about the Summer Reading Program at NAU is online.