A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

80%

42 Critic Reviews

In telling his story of how war erodes consideration and thoughtfulness for others, Beah challenges us in the west to question our glorification of it.
-Guardian

Synopsis

My new friends have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
"Cool."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it sometime."
"Yes, sometime."


This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? 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 until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: 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 a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

 

About Ishmael Beah

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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. He is currently completing a novel set in his home country of Sierra Leone.
 
Published April 1, 2007 by Sarah Crichton Books. 244 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Political & Social Sciences, War, Children's Books, Professional & Technical, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Aug 23 2015
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for A Long Way Gone
All: 42 | Positive: 40 | Negative: 2

Kirkus

Above average
on May 20 2010

Beah’s halting narrative has confusing time shifts, but it’s hideously effective in conveying the essential horror of his experiences.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
on Dec 18 2006

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.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by William Boyd on Feb 25 2007

...makes you wonder how anyone comes through such unrelenting ghastliness and horror with his humanity and sanity intact. Unusually, the smiling, open face of the author on the book jacket provides welcome and timely reassurance. Ishmael Beah seems to prove it can happen.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Uzodinma Iweala on May 25 2007

In telling his story of how war erodes consideration and thoughtfulness for others, Beah challenges us in the west to question our glorification of it.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Wynn Wheldon on May 12 2007

According to the UN there are some 300,000 boy soldiers operating in the world today. It must be assumed that most of them are orphans. Beah obviously loved his family, and it is this love that survived, albeit deeply buried, and allowed him to emerge morally intact enough to write this astonishing confession.

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Uzodinma Iweala on May 25 2007

Its language is clumsy at times and some chapters flow without pause for reflection on the significance of events discussed.

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Blog Critics

Good
Reviewed by Katherine Grace on Feb 11 2008

At times the book can be difficult to read in its grisliness, but Beah's matter-of-fact tone and simple honesty show the reader the reality of what he went through.

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Blog Critics

Excellent
Reviewed by Katie Tally on Feb 11 2008

With its brutal honesty and simple narrative, Beah's gripping account is one every person should read.

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Examiner

Excellent
Reviewed by Diane Gross-Hagerty on Jul 21 2011

...the real strength of this book comes from its’ utter lack of self-censoring. Beah pulls no punches in his retelling of details from the massacring of families to the sometimes laughable naiveté of UNICEF’s rehabilitation services.

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Examiner

Good
Reviewed by Zack Simkin on Feb 02 2010

This is a book that will touch your heart and show you a world that few in our society know about. It has left a dent in my heart forever.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on Aug 05 2008

His talent as a lyricist grew into a talent for storytelling. A LONG WAY GONE is a story that needed to be told.

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Entertainment Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Gilbert Cruz on Feb 12 2007

Gone is a clear-eyed, undeniably compelling look at wartime violence — whose viciousness becomes profoundly disturbing when one realizes it's been committed by boys barely in their teens.

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PopMatters

Good
Reviewed by Connie Ogle on Mar 09 2007

Beah’s uncompromising voice is a potent elegy for their suffering, a powerful reminder of the innocent casualties of war.

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Daily Kos

Good
Reviewed by mole333 on Dec 08 2008

I did feel there were certain descriptions that struck me as odd, but as the memories of a child under the influence of drugs in a war zone, what would you expect? The book is compelling, rings true and without a doubt captures the genuine truth about what civil wars around the world boil down to.

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AuthorsDen

Good
Reviewed by Regis H. Schilken on Feb 22 2011

I would highly recommend this book as a must read in this country’s high schools where young men and women can initially identify with Ish and his love of music, but must make their own choices with him as he falls prey to army thugs. The book will ensure great classroom discussion...

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Discerning Reader

Good
Reviewed by Tim Challies on Jun 05 2007

A Long Way Gone is an important book and one that is well worth reading. It shakes the foundations of those of us who live in a part of the world that is so safe and where we are so sheltered.

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Teen Ink

Above average
Reviewed by Unpredictable51 on Aug 08 2014

...I knew I would get hooked on it. That was because A Long Way Gone is a memoir of Ishmael Beah, a child soldier. I have fallen in love with helping those in need. Once I found out this would be similar I dived right in.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Kadye M. on Aug 08 2014

This captivating and terrifying memoir opens an individual's eyes to the world around them. A Long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier describes how a young man's childhood was affected by a war. Ishmael, an excellent individual, gives others inspiration and determination to overcome any obstacle in their way.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by JT__17 on Aug 08 2014

A Long Way Gone is a raw, real autobiography like no other. Filled with pain, gore, healing, and happiness, this book has changed my ways of thinking and opened my eyes to the horrors of an appalling conflict occurring at this very moment.

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Teen Ink

Excellent
Reviewed by Astalariana on Aug 08 2014

Although this was not a difficult book to read, it really sets your brain in motion and opens you up to a new world. Brilliantly written, this story will stay with me for life.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Emily H., on Aug 08 2014

Beah’s story needs to be told. He created a memoir that will remain forever in the hearts of those who read it.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by Amelia S. on Aug 08 2014

...when some ink, a couple pieces of paper and binding make you feel so fortuitous of your life, you know you have stumbled upon a truly miraculous exposition. Such is A Long Way Gone.

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Teen Ink

Good
Reviewed by anthonyhenry on Aug 08 2014

I really enjoyed this book because it was a heart-wrenching story and there was never a dull moment. It really opened my eyes to the tragedies of not only fighting a war, but the fact that they have children fighting and killing people.

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Teen Ink

Above average
Reviewed by slash.mustaine on Aug 08 2014

At times I found it slightly confusing why events were happening, but that seemed unimportant compared to Beah's life struggles: surviving the war, fighting while being drugged by his recruiters, recovering from the war, and escaping it.

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Helium

Excellent
Reviewed by Lorne Warwick on Aug 28 2007

I cannot recommend this book too highly. Most of us, myself included, would be hard pressed to even find Sierra Leone on a map...Ishmael Beah humanizes the things that we may, in passing, read about in the newspaper over coffee.

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Gather Books

Above average
Reviewed by Lucy B. on Mar 20 2007

The book never is as interesting or as spirited as it is in those scenes of rehabilitation, of trying to reckon with an irreconcilable past. Because of how pat much of Beah’s discussion of his misery is and the book’s abrupt ending...

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Reading for Sanity

Good
Reviewed by Heather and Kim on Mar 25 2009

Very compelling but be aware of the highly graphic depictions of violence to men, women, and children...Hard to read, but undeniably worth it.

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The Introverted Reader

Good
Reviewed by Introverted Jen on Apr 16 2013

This was not an easy read by any means but I still recommend it. We tend to lose sight of exactly how good our lives are and this is a stark reminder. I also feel that anyone who is willing to bare his or her soul in this kind of memoir should find a receptive audience to bear witness.

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Medieval Bookworm

Excellent
Reviewed by Meghan on Dec 06 2010

Personally, I knew very little about child soldiers before reading this book, and I’ve been reminded once again how fortunate I am to have grown up in a peaceful society...I can’t recommend A Long Way Gone enough.

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Grasping For The Wind

Above average
Reviewed by John Ottinger on Jun 22 2007

Anyone who loves Africa, or anyone who wants to know more about the destruction child soldiering can cause should read this book.

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Giraffe Days

Good
on Mar 30 2010

Some people have complained that if it had delved into the political etc. situation, the circumstances behind the war, it would have been more interesting. I disagree. This is not that type of memoir, and if that’s what they were expecting then they have some very strange expectations of former child soldiers.

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Small World Reads Blog

Above average
Reviewed by Sarah Small on Jan 29 2010

This is not a pleasant book, although Beah is an extremely likable narrator. Even when he is brutally killing innocent villagers, the reader knows that Beah is a gentle boy forced into a life of brutality over which he literally has no control.

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Rick Librarian

Above average
Reviewed by ricklibrarian on Apr 15 2007

I found that the chaos and heartbreak start very quickly, but I also discovered a great story that reminds me of the novels of Charles Dickens, in that the plot takes many unexpected turns and a young boy is saved time and time again by new benefactors.

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Challies

Good
on Apr 02 2007

A Long Way Gone is an important book and one that is well worth reading. It shakes the foundations of those of us who live in a part of the world that is so safe and where we are so sheltered. It inspires gratitude...

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The Broke and the Bookish

Above average
Reviewed by Jen on Jun 09 2011

This is a depressing and gruesome book. If you want to know more about the life of child soldiers I would recommend reading this.

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Lesson Un Plan

Above average
on Dec 24 2011

Without the usual academic context and equivocation I felt a bit beaten up by A Long Way Gone, but I can also see how important it is to read these kinds of stories.

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Pink Me

Above average
on Oct 25 2009

A Long Way Gone is the clearest window into the terrible experience of being a boy soldier that I've read, and for that reason I recommend it for classroom use in high school.

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http://www.thefeather.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Chelsea Joy on Mar 19 2007

Beah's story is gripping and will leave an impression of sorrow along with exultation at his ability to portray the violence through his writing. The book is his first and by far the best biography that has been released this year.

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Pambazuka News

Good
Reviewed by Mildred Barya on Jul 31 2008

A Long Way Gone is the kind of story that people from peaceful states should read so that they know what they should never erupt into.

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La Cuadra

Good
Reviewed by Michael Tallon on May 28 2008

Reading Beah’s story provides a clear view from the sad bridge spanning the chasm between the wealth of the West and the devastation caused by resource wars waged in much of the “developing” world.

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Culture Magazine

Good
Reviewed by Laura Pierce on Mar 02 2008

Not only is Beah’s tale a riveting page-turner, it also fills an important void in today’s literature on the instability that plagues Sierra Leone as seen through a child’s eyes.

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Tip Of The Iceberg

Above average
Reviewed by Terri B. on Jan 12 2008

...think that the story ended rather abruptly. I feel that the author is still working on his craft and learning to put his stories into writing, but this does not detract from the book. I highly recommend this book as a way to put a personal face to the tragic plight of children in war torn countries.

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Reader Rating for A Long Way Gone
89%

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