Summary and book reviews of A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone

Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

By Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2007,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2008,
    240 pages.

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About this Book

Book Summary

My new friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
“Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”
“Because there is a war.”
“You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
“Yes, all the time.”
“Cool.”
I smile a little.
“You should tell us about it sometime.”
“Yes, sometime.”


This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

Note
Since the time A Long Way Gone was published reporters have faulted the accuracy of some of the claims made. As of April 2012, the Internal Revenue Service has faulted the Ishmael Beah Foundation (IBF) for failing to comply with tax regulations. According to Guidestar, a leading provider of information on charities, "This organization's exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file a Form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, or 990-PF for 3 consecutive years. Further investigation and due diligence are warranted."

Chapter One

There were all kinds of stories told about the war that made it sound as if it was happening in a faraway and different land. It wasn’t until refugees started passing through our town that we began to see that it was actually taking place in our country. Families who had walked hundreds of miles told how relatives had been killed and their houses burned. Some people felt sorry for them and offered them places to stay, but most of the refugees refused, because they said the war would eventually reach our town. The children of these families wouldn’t look at us, and they jumped at the sound of chopping wood or as stones landed on the tin roofs flung by children hunting birds with slingshots. The adults among these children from the war zones would be lost in their thoughts during conversations with the elders of my town. Apart from their fatigue and malnourishment, it was evident they had seen something that plagued their minds, something ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About this guide

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. We hope they will enrich your experience as you explore his inspiring, infinitely valuable story.

An estimated 300,000 child soldiers now fight in the more than fifty violent conflicts raging around the globe. Far removed from the world of pundits and journalists, policymakers and diplomats, a thirteen-year-old boy named Ishmael Beah became one of these young warriors in Sierra Leone. Now in his mid-twenties, he courageously tells of the horrific road that led him to wield an AK-47 and, fueled by trauma and drugs, commit terrible acts. A Long Way Gone brings a rare voice of frontline realism...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2008

Reviews

BookBrowse

Representing the multitude whose stories will never be heard, Beah's memoir is honest, raw and unforgettable.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (1218 words).

Media Reviews
Wall Street Journal - John Corry

Mr. Beah's recountings are unadorned, believable and unsparing as he tells us about a conflict we never knew much about.

Washington Post - Carolyn See

Everyone in the world should read this book. Not just because it contains an amazing story, or because it's our moral, bleeding-heart duty, or because it's clearly written. We should read it to learn about the world and about what it means to be human.

Elle Magazine - Melissa Fay Greene

No outsider could have written this book, and it’s hard to imagine that many ­insiders could do so with such acute vision, stark language, and tenderness. It is a heart-rending achievement.

The New York Times - William Boyd

Beah’s memoir joins an elite class of writing: Africans witnessing African wars…. A Long Way Gone makes you wonder how anyone comes through such unrelenting ghastliness and horror with his humanity and sanity intact. Unusually, the smiling, open face of the author on the book jacket provides welcome and timely reassurance. Ishmael Beah seems to prove it can happen.

Kirkus Reviews

Beah's halting narrative has confusing time shifts, but it's hideously effective in conveying the essential horror of his experiences.

Library Journal

Beah writes with frankness and honesty about his experiences but also with other people in mind; his account of the healing process after the horrors he saw is remarkable. His book, especially relevant in today's world, should be in all high school, public, and academic libraries.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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

The Guardian (UK)

Extraordinary . . . A ferocious and desolate account of how ordinary children were turned into professional killers

Author Blurb Sebastian Junger, author of A Death in Belmont and A Perfect Storm
A Long Way Gone is one of the most important war stories of our generation. The arming of children is among the greatest evils of the modern world, and yet we know so little about it because the children themselves are swallowed up by the very wars they are forced to wage. Ishmael Beah has not only emerged intact from this chaos, he has become one of its most eloquent chroniclers. We ignore his message at our peril.

Author Blurb Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general Nonfiction
This is a beautifully written book about a shocking war and the children who were forced to fight it. Ishmael Beah describes the unthinkable in calm, unforgettable language; his memoir is an important testament to the children elsewhere who continue to be conscripted into armies and militias.

Author Blurb Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
This is a wrenching, beautiful, and mesmerizing tale. Beah's amazing saga provides a haunting lesson about how gentle folks can be capable of great brutalities as well goodness and courage. It will leave you breathless.

Author Blurb Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle: A Memoir
A Long Way Gone hits you hard in the gut with Sierra Leone’s unimaginable brutality and then it touches your soul with unexpected acts of kindness. Ishmael Beah’s story tears your heart to pieces and then forces you to put it back together again, because if Beah can emerge from such horror with his humanity in tact, it’s the least you can do.

Reader Reviews
FLAG

WOW
WOW! i never thought this book would be like this. I thought it was going to be another boring one that we read in high school but it's not. ANyone who thinks about not reading this book shouldn't, they just need to read it. No option. READ IT! you'...   Read More

Karissa

WOW!!!
this book is amazing and so... i don't even know how to explain it! What really amazed me was the fact that this is happening. I didn't even realize that these things are happening in our world today! I recommend this book to ANYONE! The way he ...   Read More

Alec Nassirzadeh

A Long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Book Review
“A Long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” is written by Ishmael Beah. This book is an inspirational truthful story about Ishmael Beah and his difficult childhood. Our book club group’s first impression of the book was that it is a vicious and brutal...   Read More

JD

a long way gone
This book, A Long Way Gone, was a very touchy heart-felt story. It is about a young African boy who has only heard of war never seen it. Until it hits his village. Now he goes from village to village with his brothers trying to avoid it. This book is...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Republic of Sierra Leone is a small country with a population of about 5.3 million on the west coast of Africa bordered by Guinea and Liberia. The life expectancy of men is 39 years and women 42 years. The name is an adaptation of the Portuguese, "serra leoa" (lion mountains). During the 18th century it was an important center for the slave trade. In the late 18th century, British abolitionists and the Sierra Leone Company founded Freetown as a home for Black Britons* and in 1808 the country became the ...

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