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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Paperback – August 5, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; 1st edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374531269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374531263
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—This gripping story by a children's-rights advocate recounts his experiences as a boy growing up in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, during one of the most brutal and violent civil wars in recent history. Beah, a boy equally thrilled by causing mischief as by memorizing passages from Shakespeare and dance moves from hip-hop videos, was a typical precocious 12-year-old. But rebel forces destroyed his childhood innocence when they hit his village, driving him to leave his home and travel the arid deserts and jungles of Africa. After several months of struggle, he was recruited by the national army, made a full soldier and learned to shoot an AK-47, and hated everyone who came up against the rebels. The first two thirds of his memoir are frightening: how easy it is for a normal boy to transform into someone as addicted to killing as he is to the cocaine that the army makes readily available. But an abrupt change occurred a few years later when agents from the United Nations pulled him out of the army and placed him in a rehabilitation center. Anger and hate slowly faded away, and readers see the first glimmers of Beah's work as an advocate. Told in a conversational, accessible style, this powerful record of war ends as a beacon to all teens experiencing violence around them by showing them that there are other ways to survive than by adding to the chaos.—Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Ishmael Beah came to the United States when he was seventeen and graduated from Oberlin College in 2004. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations on several occasions. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

It is truly an amazing story of the human spirit and survival.
cindym
It is a fantastic story for everyone to read and will really open everyone's eyes to what is going on in the world.
Jessica V
Written in a very simple style, the book tells the story of the teenage years of Ishmael Beah.
Andrew Desmond

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

262 of 280 people found the following review helpful By Lauraloo Mattox on February 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
While I did find this book painful to read, I am very glad I stayed with it. Ishmael tells his story in casual language, almost as if he were sitting next to you, sharing his experiences over (many cups of) tea.

He relays his life to us chronologically, beginning in his home village. He and some friends took a several day trip to a neighboring village to show off their hip-hop skills at a talent show. Little did they know, that little trip probably saved their lives. For while they were away, the rebel army attacked their home village.

From there, we follow Ishmael and his friends as they try to find their families (all had had to flee the village, literally running for their lives) struggling to meet the barest of necessities. It is a long, dangerous road they walk, and they suffer countless difficulties as they try to find somewhere safe to stay. A tunnel with no light. You really feel the desperation, the loneliness and despair that descended upon this poor little boy. Much of the book is about this time of wandering, going hungry, being ill-met by other villages who suspect these young, homeless friends of being a wandering squad of rebel child-soldiers. They are met with suspicion at best, hostility at worst.

It is actually understandable when Ishmael is manipulated into fighting with the government army. He is finally in a village that feels safe, he is eating, there are soldiers protecting the village, that is until the rebels surround the village, leaving no path for escape. All males (even 6 or 8 year olds) must fight for their lives, or die.

It begins as such, fighting for the "good side," the ones who did not kill his family, and fighting to defend himself.
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108 of 117 people found the following review helpful By W. P. Strange on February 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary memoir by a young man who has lived and seen the worst of humanity and managed to survive and become a better man for all the tragedy, violence, horror and degradation he was forced to witness as a 12 year old boy. I can see this as required reading in high schools across the country. It is not only that good, it is that important. The writing is honest, straight forward, painfully introspective but never self pitying. Truly an amazing story, and a history lesson we all need be reminded of now and again.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By bossy dinosaur on February 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A Long Way Gone was a remarkable book. The narration is divided into three parts--before the war, being a soldier, and learning to become human again. The LL Cool J and Run DMC references surprised me because it showed just how far-reaching music (and media) can be. Sadly, the opposite is not true: little media attention was (is) given to the plight of child soldiers around the world. I hope this book will start the conversation.

I was struck, and almost disturbed, by the matter-of-fact tone Beah used to describe the atrocities he committed, but his overall linguistic elegance made the descriptions of his travels and the reflections on his life uplifting by the end. How he was able to "rehabilitate" himself after living that surreal life demonstrates his strong sense of self. The book ends somewhat suddenly, but then, Beah's life story is still unfolding at age 26. This is a stark, but beautiful, narrative.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You might not be able to read this book if you didn't know it had a hopeful ending. The violence is unstaged, described in a matter-of-fact way that gives it a haunting quality; wounds bleed, women scream, babies are burned in their cribs, grown men are shot after being tortured. And it is violence perpetrated in many cases by boys, young teenagers who in their own culture are usually not considered old enough to date or wise enough to make tough decisions.

Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone and grew up in a time of relative stability, before open rebellion began. One day he and his close buddies went to a nearby town to enter a music contest. They'd been listening to rap, imitating the poetic lyrics and the dance moves. They had a couple of home-recorded cassette tapes. While they were away, rebels swept into their home village, killing many inhabitants and forcing the rest to flee. Everyone disappeared from Ishmael's home in a few short hours, and he was never again to see most members of his close family. With no preparation, he was cut off from the life he had known and forced, with his companions, to begin a long period of constant flight, near-starvation and terror.

The boys knew that their time was limited. The rebels were recruiting boys to fight, raping the young girls and enslaving the elders. They were stealing all usable items and all food, burning the villages as they left. The army was likewise recruiting boys, after men were slain by rebel forces. Boys so young as to be barely able to carry a weapon were given AK-47s and told to avenge their family's deaths. They were drugged with marijuana and cocaine until their minds were as ragged as their clothes, and sent out to kill.

After living from day to harrowing day, Ishmael was forced to join the army.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Michael G. Radigan on February 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
There are, according to UNICEF, over 300,000 children employed as soldiers in various wars around the world. Ishmael Beah, author of this simple but eloquent memoir, was one of them. His powerful and disturbing book shows the full range of humankind's capacity for good and evil.

His direct and unadorned language, and the contrast he draws between his happy childhood and the hellish nightmare of a savage civil war in which he was compelled to commit atrocities, make his narrative truly spellbinding. His account is also a testament to the revivifying power of love, which he found after UNICEF workers saved and helped rehabilitate him.

My only criticism is that this book ends too abruptly, with him leaving Sierra Leone for Guinea. From the book jacket, it is clear that Ishmael Beah accomplished much with his life since leaving Africa. I would like to have read more about his life in the United States. I hope he writes again.

This account of a child at war is sad enough to break your heart, but it is inspiring to know that Ishmael has survived. I hope someday no children will have to fight in wars. Better yet, I hope someday no adults will either.
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