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A Long Way Gone

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A Long Way Gone

January 2nd, 2008  · Rachel

Rachel reviews "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier", an autobiography by Ishmael Beah. It's a mesmerizing tale of how an ordinary African boy, living in Sierra Leone, becomes a killing machine and lives to tell about it

(Non-Fiction)Review of "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier"
an autobiography by Ishmael Beah

Living in the relative comfort of North America, war is not something that I know much about, but Ishmael Beah knows about it first-hand. In his autobiography “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” Beah tells his tale of tragedy, violence and survival. He uses honest, straightforward language that carries you along as though he were telling the tale as you walk beside him.

When twelve-year-old Beah, his brother and some friends left home to visit a neighbouring African village, they had no idea that their lives would be forever changed. While away, the Sierra Leone rebel army attacked his village, leaving in its wake a tide of chaos and devastation. Beah tells how he spent the next few months wandering the forests, trying to find his family and to overcome countless difficulties in order to stay alive. While traveling with a group of six other homeless boys brought Beah companionship, it also meant that they were regarded with fear and suspicion, or met with hostility, as others thought they were a wandering squad of child-soldiers. Months passed and the boys narrowly avoided death by any number of ways, until they are given shelter at a village occupied by government forces. However, the reprieve was short-lived as, within a few months, the village was surrounded by rebels, leaving the boys no choice but to take up arms and become child-soldiers.

Click "Read Full Story" to continue reading the review of "A Long Way Home".

Beah tells the rest of his tale, from the rehabilitation home for boy soldiers, as vignettes, slowly exposing the reader to the horrors of what he had seen and done. While there are still plenty of times in which the reader is horrified by the actions of such young boys, it is easier to digest, as Beah is on his road to recovery as he tells of these acts. While it began as a fight for survival and avenging the deaths of family and friends, the motivation for his continued involvement soon became blurred as Beah descended into a world of war, where it is difficult to discern good from bad, as he in turn, takes the lives of other innocent people.

The book ends as Beah makes his way out of Sierra Leon and into Guinea, on his way to the United States. Being a young boy in an unfamiliar country with no money in his pocket undoubtedly presented many problems, but the tale ends as though Guinea was his final destination, leaving the reader feeling deserted and wanting more.

There is very little self-reflection and soul searching in the book. Beah does not delve much into how he felt about his actions, but rather tells about them in a matter-of-fact manner. He neither promotes himself as brave and noble, or as the hard-done-by victim. He accepts responsibility for his actions, but does not elaborate on how he has come to terms with what he has done and the lives he has taken. Perhaps these issues are too raw and private for him to write about and it is only through keeping things unemotional that he can get them onto the paper.

Furthermore, there is little historical context in this book that have helped to educate the reader about the political circumstances leading to the unrest, as well as place the whole story in context. While Beah includes a time line chronology of the history of Sierra Leone at the end of the book, it is very much an appendix that read as such: dry and unpalatable. Nonetheless, perhaps Beah opted to leave out any political or historical staging because he was only 12 years old when his world got turned upside down by the conflict, and he likely knew nothing about it at that time.

Despite its shortcomings, this book is an excellent read and I strongly recommend it to everyone. As disturbing as it was at times, I had a hard time putting the book down. Not only does it carry the reader along on an amazingly horrifying, yet inspiring, journey, it opens ones eyes to the horrors that occur in other parts of our small world. I herald Ishmael Beah for writing about his experiences and for all of his work trying to raise the awareness of how children are affected by war. Thank you Ishmael Beah!


"A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" at Amazon. (Amazon link has other reviews and pertinent information).

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Updated: 7-Jan-2008
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1.flag Byron Griffin Comment
04/11/08
i am surprised and touched to see a book of such a nature on your site, or any other for that matter. Too many times we ignore the rest of the world. Thanks. And thanks for the "no-holds barred" review.
2.flag Ana Comment
11/08/08
i love this book! i cried while i read it but i just can't believe that after that has happend, i feel like i was a part of it. everything seemed so real. but thank you for sharing it with all of us in your book. :)
3.flag Austin Comment
05/17/09
I personally disliked this book. Many a time have I sat down to read and been disappointed by what I was reading. I felt as though the majority of this work of literary art was spent painting a picture of them walking through the desert. Thank you for spending the time to read my little review and if you enjoy this book, Thumbs Up from me because I was rather disappointed.
4.flag Mitch Mansfield Comment
07/20/09
The book is raw with emotion, despite Beah's attempts to disassociate his feelings in print - which based on his experiences, is understandable. Wherever you are, Ishmael, I hope you are well! You deserve any good fortune that comes your way.
5.flag Erik Comment
04/23/10
this book was amazing in so many ways. It was the perfect story.
6.flag Emma Pink Comment
09/18/11
Our high school had to read this book for a project, but the whole time I didnt feel as if it was forced upon us because it was true, interesting, sad and just a great book for sure.
7.flag ERNEST TIMNGE Comment
09/19/11
The first time I read this book, I was really frightened and felt as if I was moving with Beah. I found myself weeping very bitterly at all the pains the boy had endured. I was right inside Beah's shoes, feeling his pains and sorrows. I thought of my own country - Cameroon - and what would happen if the greed continued. Beah's story is real and it is just the same story told by many African children.
8.flag Rushikesh Sohale Pune India Comment
12/17/11
It showing two side of coin one where side where all world try to save child same time some contry going to use child as child soldier. It shows brain washing of child for war. this book is realy good. i feel very sad for those child who still working such orgnisation......