A long way gone is a book that discusses the subject of family: family life, family relationships, and family environment. Discuss the many different families that Ishmael has belonged to over the course of his young lifeline how each family either benefited or harmed him
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Beah loses his mother, father, brothers and grandparents in the war. Family is the most important thing for Beah, and he struggles to keep his family alive any way he can. At first, he is stranded along with his brother Junior in Mattru Jong. Their bond deepens despite the tragedy that has befallen them. Ishmael and Junior try to protect each other as best they can, as they had when they were "misfits" at school. However, when they become separated, Beah is unable to mourn for him as he must focus on staying alive.
Each pack of boys Beah ends up with during his travels becomes an ad hoc family; family becomes situational rather than genetic. But each boy realizes that something irreplaceable has been lost. When Saidu dies, Kanei must represent his family at the funeral. The villager who accompanies them say that they will always know where their friend is buried and can return; but each boy knows they will never return. Later, Beah's squad becomes his family. Even at Benin Home, the ex-RUF boys clash with the rescued army boys. Likely orphaned, each boy desperately clings to one another. Family is something to fight for.
At Benin Home, Esther offers to be Beah's sister but he can only grant her familial status on a temporary basis. He has been jaded by war, but he still seeks connection. Beah eventually finds a home with Uncle Tommy - who, like Beah during the war, takes care of children other than his own despite not being blood - but he is wary of opening up about his wartime experiences. Beah does not want to alienate his cousins. Beah has learned that family is precious but can be fleeting.
The memories and stories of Beah's childhood are interspersed throughout the memoir, typically at times when Beah is most afraid. Within the story, they are a comfort to child Beah, but they also serve a greater, narrative purpose. With Esther, Beah bemoans the fact that as sole survivor, no one else will be able to tell stories of his childhood. His memoir is a way to keep his family alive in some way.