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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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Seriously incredible book, at times hard to read...

  • Oct 5, 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 of themselves. To me this is one of the best means of motivating myself to become more. I know that I have nothing stopping me from achieving, but to read about someone who has countless roadblocks to success and happiness, really makes me realize that I could be working so much harder to become a better person and to make the most of everything that I have already accomplished and become someone so much better in life.

One of the most recent books that I read on this was A long Way Gone : Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. I decided to read this book after hearing about it in the New York Times. The review on the book blew me away and it was something that I knew would be interesting to me, especially since I had just seen the movie, Blood Diamond, and already had an interest in Africa and it's internal struggles.

About the Book
The book is an account of a 12 year old that was kidnapped and forced by rebels to flee the life he knew. In the book he talks about his obsession with American culture, especially music at 12 years old. He talked about how he had to leave his comfortable life behind and flee, from village to village in an attempt to avoid the destruction of terror of the rebels. He didn't want to become like so many other young boys who were forced into the army and brainwashed to kill the innocents. He saw it happening over and over and regardless of his lack of family, found himself a refuge, running for his life on his own until he joined the army.

The army he said forced him to grow up so quickly, forcing him to experience life far too quickly and making him into a man, before he was even finished knowing life as a young boy. He experimented with a variety of drugs, drank alcohol on a regular basis, and killed countless people in an attempt to keep control over the rebel forces, most of which were just young children, much like himself.

Eventually Beah was able to leave the army and found himself in a rehabilitation center run by UNICEF, where he began to tell his story to others. He soon became a spokesperson for the center, which focused on rehabilitating those that were forced to fight at a young age. Most of the young adults that were at this camp were so brainwashed that they didn't trust anyone and required a lot of work in order to turn back into regular citizens. Beah spoke out about the camp and it's benefits to the children in bringing them back to civilian life. While in the camp, Beah was reunited with his family.

Throughout the book, Beah talks about the endless war and how it keeps affecting his life and how eventually the rebels came into the capital and forced him and his family to flee once more, this time to the United States. The book talks about the different struggles that Beah had to face while he fled from village to village and how he was able to eventually come to the United States, free from the constant terror of war and violence.

It is amazing to hear Beah and his account of survival. How he fled on foot from one location to the next, barely finding enough food to keep him alive. He talks about how he had to abuse drugs regularly to live with the pain and death that he saw and committed. The constant drinking, especially amongst the younger soldiers was the only thing that could keep them from crying out in pain every night as they thought about their families that had been killed. And to see children the same age as them on the other side of the fight, watching them die, watching those fight with them die, was too much for most of them. It is said that most children who go to war will never truly recover from it, and to hear this tale, it really makes you believe that it is possible to help the children that are involved in the many conflicts around the world. It makes you believe that we can rehabilitate them if the conflict would just stop long enough to allow workers to go in and do their work. Unfortunately, it really isn't that simple, as Beah describes in the book.

The writing
Something I thought that would be extremely difficult was reading the book. However, while Beah is a non-native English speaker, who missed a great deal of education during his years with war, he has managed to obtain a degree and writes with great intelligence. If you didn't know that he wasn't native English, then you would not be able to tell just by reading alone. The book is put together extremely well, reads smoothly, and tells an incredible tale that only someone involved in the conflict could tell.

The book is packed with true emotion, that you can really feel paragraph after bloody paragraph. You feel as if you are there with Beah as he runs from the terrors in each village. You feel as if you are there with him trying to find food and water to survive. And you feel his pain as if you are part of the same struggle.

Final Thoughts
This is an excellent book for any read, regardless of your ability. I think it will inspire anyone that reads it. It will really make you consider what is happening over in Africa and in other countries at War and realize that those in the more civilized world truly have it lucky. We truly are blessed to have the rights and freedoms that we have and the ability to live each and every day of our lives without fear that rebels are going to storm into our homes, rape our mothers and sisters, and then kill our entire family, only to kidnap the young men and enslave them to fight for them after severe brainwashing.

This book is an excellent read and worth taking the time for!


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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 …
review by . June 20, 2007
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 …
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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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