In A Long Way Gone Ishmael Beah tells a riveting story in his own words: 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 how wars are fought now by children, hopped up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s. In the more than fifty violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers.
Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. 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 it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.
This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.
Ishmael Beah tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and became a child soldier.,Ishmael Beah was born in 1980 in Sierra Leone, West Africa. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vespertine Press, LIT, Parabola, and numerous academic journals. He is a UNICEF Ambassador and Advocate for Children Affected by War; a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Advisory Committee; an advisory board member at the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; visiting scholar at the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University; visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights at Rutgers University; cofounder of the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW); and president of the Ishmael Beah Foundation. He has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and many panels on the effects of war on children. His book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier has been published in over thirty languages and was nominated for a Quill Award in 2007. Time magazine named the book as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2007, ranking it at number three. Ishmael Beah is a graduate of Oberlin College with a B.A. in Political Science and resides in Brooklyn, New York.,
1. How familiar were you with the civil wars of Sierra Leone prior to reading A Long Way Gone? How has Ishmael’s story changed your perception of this history, and of current wars in general?
2. Chapter seven begins with the story of the imam’s death, followed by Ishmael’s recollections of his father and an elder blessing their home when they first moved to Mogbwemo. How do the concepts of faith and hope shift throughout this memoir? What sustains Ishmael emotionally and spiritually?
3. Chapter eight closes with the image of villagers running fearfully from Ishmael and his friends, believing that the seven boys are rebels. How do they overcome these negative assumptions in communities that have begun to associate the boys’ appearance with evil? What lessons could world leaders learn from them about overcoming distrust, and the importance of judging others individually rather than as stereotypes?
4. What did Ishmael’s parents teach him about being a man? How did he define manhood once he began his long walk west? What general life lessons were his parents able to teach him that sustained him during his brutal passage from boyhood, and that he carries with him to this day?
5. Discuss the role of American hip-hop culture in creating a “soundtrack” for Ishmael’s life. Why are rappers so appealing to him?
6. The boys’ discovery of the Atlantic Ocean and their encounter with a cheerful fisherman who heals and feeds them is followed by the tragedy of Saidu’s death after a bird falls ominously from the sky. Discuss Ishmael’s relationship with the natural world. In what way is he guided by the constancy of the earth and sky?
7. When Ishmael arrives at the fortified village of Yele in chapter twelve, what do you discover about the way he began his military career? Was his service, and that of his equally young friends, necessary? What made his conscription different from that of drafted American soldiers serving in previous wars?
8. Ishmael tells us that some of the boys who had been rehabilitated with him later became soldiers again. What factors ensured that he could remain a civilian?
9. Storytelling is a powerful force in Ishmael’s life, even providing a connection to his future mother, Laura Simms. What traits make Ishmael a memorable and unique storyteller? How does his perspective compare to the perspectives of filmmakers, reporters, or other authors who have recently tried to portray Africa’s civil wars?
10. Ishmael describes his use of Krio and many tribal languages to communicate, as well as his ability to quote Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English. What communities and empires are represented in his many speech styles? In which “villages,” from the relatively new UN to the centuries-old Mende and Temne settlements, does the greatest wisdom lie?
11. How does Ishmael’s concept of family change throughout the memoir, from his early life in Mattru Jong, to the uncle with whom he is reunited, to his American family with Laura?
12. It takes many weeks before Ishmael feels comfortable with the relief workers’ refrain that these events are not his fault. What destructive beliefs had he become addicted to? What states of deprivation and euphoria had his body become addicted to?
13. What universal truths does Ishmael teach us about surviving loss and hunger, and overcoming isolation?
14. Ishmael’s dramatic escape during the later waves of revolution concludes with the riddle of the monkey. Is his dream of obliterating the monkey—and its violent endgames—closer to being fulfilled in these early years of the twenty-first century? What would it take for all of humanity to adopt Ishmael’s rejection of vengeance?
15. Ishmael gives credit to relief workers such as Esther, in conjunction with organizations such as UNICEF, for rescuing him. He has dedicated his life to their cause, studying political science and speaking before a broad variety of groups, ranging from the Council on Foreign Relations to the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. What steps has he inspired you to take to help end the use of child soldiers? How can each of us join Ishmael’s cause?
16. After reading the chronology of Sierra Leone’s history, what reasons can you propose for the coups in Ishmael’s homeland? Did the arrival of Portuguese slave traders, or the later colonization by the British, contribute to Sierra Leone’s twentieth century woes? What did you discover about the motivations of the army soldiers versus those of the rebels? In your opinion, what made the leaders of the RUF so ruthless for so long?
“Actor Dominic Hoffman’s restrained voice, edged with sadness and poignancy, conveys Beah’s difficult emotional state.” —Library Journal
“This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone’s civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare…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 and the ongoing plight of child soldiers in conflicts worldwide.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is unforgettable testimony that Africa’s children–millions of them dying and orphaned by preventable diseases, hundreds of thousands of them forced into battle–have eyes to see and voices to tell what has happened. And what voices!—Melissa Fay Greene, Elle Magazine
“Hideously effective in conveying the essential horror of his experiences.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Extraordinary . . . A ferocious and desolate account of how ordinary children were turned into professional killers.” —The Guardian UK
“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.” —Sebastian Junger, author of A Death in Belmont and A Perfect Storm
“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.” —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 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.” —Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
“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.” —Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle: A Memoir
A Long Way Gone was published on March 20, 2007.The A Long Way Gone Audiobook is 1238 hours and 20 minutes. Speechify has the Unabridged edition version of the audiobook.
Both the publication language and the narration language are in English.
A Long Way Gone includes the following subjects: Africa / West. The BISAC Subject Code is .
The author of A Long Way Gone is Ishmael Beah.
The narrator for the A Long Way Gone Audiobook is Ishmael Beah.