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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

A children's right advocate's account of his own experiences growing up in the midst of a violent civil war in Sierra Leone by Ishmael Beah

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What a piece of work is man...

  • Jun 20, 2007
  • by
No matter how you slice it, Ishmael Beah is an amazing man.

This autobiographical account of his life details how a happy, cheerful young boy became a merciless soldier at the age of thirteen (and was not the oldest by far). How he went form living with his family in a small village in Sierra Leone to being a drug-addicted killer, ready to gun down anyone who got in the way. Not just killing people, but often doing so in especially brutal ways.

Most importantly it details his transformation back from the brink of seemingly endless death and violence into a college-educated young man and exceptional writer.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most harrowing, heartbreaking and moving stories I have ever read. Beautiful and honestly written. Passionate and personal, but also painting a larger picture of a world most of will, thank goodness, never experience.

For me personally the image that remains most stark is one of a neighbor of Ishmael's, a boy about his age, who is fleeing their village. The boy is carrying a sack of goods from his family's home. The only things he has left of his entire world. But it slows him down, then gets caught between a couple stumps. What happens to the boy is up to the reader to guess, but given that he was being shot at at the time, the likely conclusion is all too grim.

(rant approaching) Too often we Americans, comfortable in our relatively easy lives, are inclined to forget the rest of the world. If you asked the average person on the street to name five countries in Africa, they MIGHT get Egypt and South Africa, and then would probably wind up including Afghanistan. Our ignorance about the rest of the world in general and Africa in particular is inexcusible.

More than just about anything else this book convinces me that we, as a nation, need to do some sort of "Marshall Plan" for Africa. We can't go in with guns and bombs and make them like us. But we can go in with money, and schools, and medicine. Africa has all the resources it needs to be doing well. But they nevertheless continue to basically suck. Something must be done.

I highly recommend this book to readers 10 years or older. I especially recommend it to people who are in their early teens. Perhaps they can learn the horrible lessons Ishmael learned at their age without going through the traumas he experienced.

The one real criticism I have of the book is that, like "The Sopranos", it didn't END, so much as just STOP. One moment things are happening, you turn the page, and that's it. It's a minor complaint, but it's still there.

This is a book about horrible, horrible war, violence and despair. But it's also a book about hope. I started this review with a quote from Shakespeare, but I shall end with a quote from Cicero who once observed that, "While there's life, there's hope."

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More A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a ... reviews
review by . October 05, 2010
Pros: Very easy to read, excellent story, heartwarming and intense      Cons: none.      The Bottom Line: If you are looking for a book that will truly make you tremble and cry as you turn each page, Beah creates an incredible story, that you'll love.      I absolutely love a good book written about personal struggles. There is nothing more inspirational than hearing about someone raising above their problems in life and making something …
review by . May 19, 2010
Moving is a word that I hate using because it is so cliche; however, it is the only word that accurately describes my reaction at reading this memoir. It is simply moving. Ishmael Beah's terrifying account of his experiences in Sierra Leone will made me shiver, laugh, weep, get angry, and want to do something to help. I won't spoil the story by describing what happens to Beah, but I will say that it is more insane than you could possibly imagine. What is remarkable is that Beah is able to describe …
review by . November 11, 2009
I saw the ads for this book when it came out and was curious, but somehow never got round to reading it. Then I found it cheap and made up for lost time. It's an incredible read and unputdownable just doesn't begin to describe it.      The world of the first chapter is close enough to ours to be easily imagined, but far enough away to fascinate. Boys play American music tapes and practice dance moves in the street and life is good. Then it all falls apart.   …
review by . November 30, 2008
A Long Way Gone
". . . if given a chance."     Ishmael Beah, author of this remarkable and very disturbing memoir, is living proof of this statement. It was a statement initially prepared for him as a spokesperson on the issue of child soldiers during his rehabilitation period, and one he learned to repeat again and again, as he outlived not only this wartime sufferings, but also all of his family members and most of his friends.     "Why does everyone keep dying except me?" …
review by . June 29, 2007
I like to say that "A Long Way Gone" is quite a depressing story but very inspiring. Ishmael Beah tells the story of becoming a boy soldier in Sierra Leone and of his later rehabilitation. This was a heartbreaking story and very difficult to read from an emotional standpoint. I read the book over a short period of time as it is so gripping that I did not want to put it down, but at the same time it brought an overwhelming sense of sorrow. The horror that Beah so well describes, was unbelievably …
About the reviewer
C R Swanson ()
Ranked #59
   I'm an aspiring writer and reviewer. I run a blog, I'm working on a novel and spend my free time reading and playing video games. I also spend waaaaay too much time and money on movies. … more
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Starred Review.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. Beah's harrowing journey transforms him overnight from a child enthralled by American hip-hop music and dance to an internal refugee bereft of family, wandering from village to village in a country grown deeply divided by the indiscriminate atrocities of unruly, sociopathic rebel and army forces. Beah then finds himself in the army—in a drug-filled life of casual mass slaughter that lasts until he is 15, when he's brought to a rehabilitation center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs. The process marks out Beah as a gifted spokesman for the center's work after his "repatriation" to civilian life in the capital, where he lives with his family and a distant uncle. When the war finally engulfs the capital, it sends 17-year-old Beah fleeing again, this time to the U.S., where he now lives. (Beah graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.) 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.(Feb.)
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ISBN-10: 0374105235
ISBN-13: 978-0374105235
Author: Ishmael Beah
Genre: History
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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