Beah, Ishmael (2007). New York,: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. ISBN-10: 0374105235/ ISBN-13: 978-0374105235
This non-fiction book is the memoir of the author, who was 12 when the revolution began in Sierra Leone. Beah, his older brother, and a group of friends had walked to a larger town to perform as rappers in a talent show; while they were gone their village was attacked by vicious rebel forces. Homeless and starving, the boys, joined by others, wander through the nightmarish landscape of the bloodied countryside. Just as Ishmael locates his family, they are massacred along with most of the inhabitants of their new town. Ishmael is soon rounded up by the government forces and trained as a soldier. Full of rage against those who killed his family, fueled by the readily available drugs and armed with his own AK-47, Ishmael lives as a killer for several years. After he and some other boys are handed over to UNESCO, they begin the long process toward physical and spiritual rehabilitation. Ishmael makes progress and is chosen to visit the UN in New York as an ambassador for the children of Sierra Leone. He finds family when he is united with an uncle, but as war breaks out again he flees the country. Early chapters and the afterward describe how he finally arrives in New York.
A calmly observant style serves to underline the unbelievable horror of the events depicted in this first person memoir by Ishmael Beah, who spent years as a rage and drug fuelled child soldier during the Sierra Leone Civil War.
There is some discussion online about the reliability of this memoir. It is easy to see how the events and places recollected could have fused and blurred in the memories of a child, but the general impression of the narrative is one of simple truthfulness—the quiet, straightforward narrative voice almost seems to imply that dramatic emphasis is neither necessary nor tolerable when such events are considered. Though such a book is read for purposes other than entertainment, there are pleasures in the narrative, especially the images of family events and the African stories preserved in Ishmael’s memories.
About the author
Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980. After the events described in the book he became part of the family of an American woman he had met during his first US visit. He finished high school at the United Nations International School and graduated from Oberlin College in 2004. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and participates in many groups advocating for children affected by war.
Why is behavior such as Ishmael describes sometimes called ‘inhuman’?
Used the quote: “I believe children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance”
How would we have answered the story of the monkey?
Reading Level/Interest Age
Horrific violence, rape, drug use
Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy; list SLJ and other reviews available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Long-Way-Gone-Memoirs-Soldier/dp/0374105235 and awards summarized on Wikipedia, including place on Time Magazine’s Best Non-Fiction 2007
Wanted to include some non-fiction; this was the title most frequently recommended by my students.
Student recommendation, SLJ.