Summary and Analysis Chapter 17



Ishmael's first breakthrough in rehabilitation comes because his nurse, Esther, buys him a Walkman and rap cassettes. At first, it makes him angry, but then the music overtakes him and he begins opening up to Esther about his past. He tells her of a battle in which he was shot in the foot three times and a doctor performed a surgery to remove the bullet without anesthesia. Ishmael fainted from the pain and was given cocaine. His lieutenant told him he would now be killing the men who had shot his foot and caused him so much pain. When Ishmael recounts this story to Esther, she cries in sympathy and tries to comfort him by telling him again that his soldiering is not his fault. This angers Ishmael and he throws the Walkman at her.

Esther continues to use music to lure Ishmael into therapy. He exchanges his memories for hours listening to Bob Marley cassettes. She also gives him a notebook and encourages him to begin writing lyrics again. Ishmael begins to look forward to their sessions, but he is still plagued by migraines whenever he tries to recall his childhood.


In this chapter, Ishmael questions his ability to trust anyone. He's been relying on himself to survive and prefers to be alone. He trusted the lieutenant and feels he was betrayed when the lieutenant handed over the boy soldiers to UNICEF. The nurse at the rehabilitation center, Esther, tries to gain Ishmael's friendship, but he's reluctant. He meets kindness with anger and looks down upon those who cooperate. His view of other people is still very jaded compared with his openness and friendship before the war.

Ishmael's migraines symbolize the memories he is trying to repress. Each time he thinks of his childhood, his head begins to hurt. He has flashbacks to war memories, which seem to cause sharp pains in his head. His physical symptoms seem to be in reaction to his emotional struggles. The music he's again surrounding himself with is helpful in focusing his mind. Ishmael thinks of the lyrics and loses himself in the beat to avoid war flashbacks and painful memories. Music is helping him heal and open again to the possibilities of his future.

Ishmael's breakthrough comes at the end of the chapter when he believes Esther for the first time that perhaps all that has happened to him and all the violence he's committed is not his fault. Esther's patience and kindness seem to be saving Ishmael from himself.