Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Reviews | Memoirs

For a variety of reasons, I've read quite a few memoirs recently.

Our youngest nephew had to read A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah during the summer for his advanced 8th grade English class this year, so I picked up a copy to read and discuss with him. I hadn't heard of this book before and really knew nothing about Sierra Leone, West Africa, or the civil war that took place there. 

The author lost his family during the war when he was only 12-years-old. He spent a year running from the rebels, then two years as a soldier in the government's army before being taken out of the fighting by UNICEF. The title led me to expect stories of his time as a solider; however, he doesn't become a child soldier until halfway through the book. At that point, there are a few pages about his training (mostly brainwashing), a note about the first battle, then in the space of a few pages, two years pass and he is picked up by UNICEF. Because he was a good solider, he had no idea why his commanding officer allowed him to be taken away from the army. He and his friends were angry and rebellious, but finally rehabilitated. He eventually was sent to New York City, where the guys at his high school thought it was "cool" that he has seen people running around with guns shooting each other.

I have mixed emotions about this book. First, it was so sad to read about the war and how children were conscripted into the army. While I was saddened by his story, I was disappointed that there was not much guilt or remorse, or really any emotions, shown or discussed throughout this book that is told from the author's first person perspective. And, finally, while there are quite a few instances of foreshadowing, flashbacks, and symbolism, I felt the overall structure and readability of the book were lacking.

I'd heard very disparate reviews about Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover before my name finally got to the top of the book hold list at our local library. 

The author was raised by survivalist fanatic Mormon parents on a mountain in Idaho. She did not attend school, did not go to doctors, worked in the family junkyard "scrapping" metal, was physically abused by an older brother, and was brainwashed by her parents about how the government was out to get them.

When one of her brothers goes to college, Tara begins studying to take the ACT. Her score allows her to be accepted to Brigham Young University and she eventually goes on to earn several degrees, including a PhD from Cambridge.

Honestly, I did not like the author, who (despite earning those degrees) doesn't really seem very intelligent and is still rather emotionally fragile and unsure of herself (which is understandable). She questions her memories of events in footnotes and has (supposedly) comes to terms with being estranged from her parents. This was a depressing book without an uplifting ending.

I received a copy of I'm Possible: Jumping Into Fear and Discovering a Life of Purpose by Jeremy Cowart free from Booklook Bloggers (soon to be The Readers Lounge) in exchange for an honest review.

The author is an artist, photographer, and graphic designer. His unique creative style is evident from the book cover! He shares the story of his career and the circumstances that lead to various changes or direction. He is involved in lots of humanitarian projects (Help-Portrait, voices of Haiti, Gatlinburg fire, etc); however, when he describes these projects, it's hard to determine if he's volunteering his time and resources or if he's profiting from them as well and what his main motive for "helping" really is.

This is a good story about following ideas and "nudges" and trying scary new things, but I just couldn't really like the author. The writing was almost too contrived as he tried to sound humble with a little nod of thanks to the Lord here and there.

Night by Elie Wiesel was the other book on our nephew's summer reading list. This book was published in the late 1950s and tells the story of the author and his family during World War II. They were Jews and were taken to Auschwitz, then on to Buchenwald, concentration camps in Germany. Elie was with his father up until the last few months of his imprisonment (when his father died). 

The title of the book comes from the chapter where he shares about how he lost his faith the first night in camp. Sadly, he never says that his faith is restored. Many schools use this book when teaching about the atrocities of World War II; however, this was my first time to read it. It's a well-written first person account of the terrible hardships the author experienced.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer was chosen as this year's community read here in Allen, Texas.

As a young boy in Malawi, Africa, William was the only son of a poor farm family. They survived a drought, but he had to drop out of secondary school when his family couldn't pay the tuition fees. He was naturally talented at fixing things and re-purposing trash into usable objects. He discovered some used books at the library and learned how to make a windmill from junk and parts and pieces he found. This windmill brought electricity to his home. 

When others learned of his ingenuity, he was invited to do a Ted Talk! Eventually funds were donated for his education at the African Leadership Academy and later to Dartmouth University. He wrote his memoir in 2009, and a young reader's edition (which I read) was published in 2015. I was pretty impressed with this young man, who said (in the interview at the back of the book) that he would return to Malawi to help the country after completing his education. [While he has helped his native country and his family in many ways, a quick Internet search shows that he is still living in the US five years after graduation.]

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I've read both The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, and Educated. I have to say I disagree with you on many counts about Educated, but do agree that The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was excellent.

  2. I've read Night; a tough one. I did see the author of Educated interviewed & I'll just say that I was not encouraged to read her book. Thanks for the reviews & recommendations.

  3. I had the same thoughts about Educated: A Memoir.

  4. PS: have just downloaded 'Night' onto my Kindle ... thanks for the recommendations.


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