The narrator and author of the book. When Beah is a teenager, he spends a year wandering Sierra Leone on the run from the civil war that claims his family. His childhood ended, Beah resorts to survivalist tactics to stay alive; he steals when he needs to, roams in packs of boys his own age who have been orphaned, and he spends long stretches of time alone in the forest. At 13, he is forced to become a soldier for the government's army and is ordered to kill rebels - many of whom are boys his own age. Beah witnesses and perpetrates numerous atrocities before he is rescued and rehabilitated by UNICEF. He speaks at several international conferences on children and war, including one at the United Nations. He currently lives in New York.
Ishmael Beah's elder brother. Junior is protective of Beah, as he has been for all of the younger boy's life. It is to Junior that Beah looks for reassurance during their trials. Beah is separated from Junior during a rebel attack on Kamator and never sees his older brother again.
Musa is a Mende boy who was in Mattru Jong when the rebels attacked. Musa and his father were separated from his mother during the attack. Musa's father ordered him to stay where he was until he could return with his wife; as soon as Musa's father returned to the village, the attack grew in intensity and Musa was forced to run. He is among the six boys Beah finds in the forest after his month of isolation. Musa is the storyteller of the group.
Alhaji is a Temne boy who was at the river fetching water when the rebels attacked his village. He returned home to find his family, but all he was able to find was an empty house. Alhaji is among the six boys Beah encounters after his month of isolation in the forest. He remains a close friend of Beah's even as they are rescued together by UNICEF.
Kanei is a Mende boy who escaped the rebels' attack on his village with his parents, but lost his two sisters and three brothers in the chaos. He and his parents escape in a boat, but the boat capsized when rebels threw the passengers into panic by shooting at them. Kanei swam to the other side of the river and witnessed many people drowning in the river whiel the rebels laughed at their suffering. He follows the other survivors in the hope of locating his parents, whom others tell him have passed through the area. Kanei is among the six boys Beah encounters after his month of isolation in the forest.
Jumah is a Mende boy whose house was destroyed by an RPG during the RUF attack on his village. He runs toward teh wharf to find his parents, but cannot locate them. Along with Moriba, Jumah flees into the forest to find their hiding families, but cannot discover their whereabouts. Jumah is among the six boys Beah encounters after his month of isolation in the forest.
Moriba is a Mende boy whose house was destroyed by an RPG during the RUF attack on his village. He runs toward teh wharf to find his parents, but cannot locate them. Along with Jumah, Moriba flees into the forest to find their hiding families, but cannot discover their whereabouts. Moriba is among the six boys Beah encounters after his month of isolation in the forest.
Saidu is a Temne boy whose family was unable to leave the village during the rebel attack. He and his family hide under their beds during the night of the attack. The next morning, rebels broke into the house and rape his three sisters. Because he is in the attic retreiving rice for his family at the time, Saidu is safe but is forced to hear the sounds of their suffering as the rebels assault them. The rebels then forced Saidu's parents to pack up and carry their belongings for the rebels depart, taking the sisters with them. Saidu is among the six boys whom Beah encounters following his month of isolation in the forest.
Later, Saidu "faints" when three white-clothed figures--whom the boys believe to be ghosts--pass them in the forest one night. Saidu is catatonic for a long time, but recovers. Unfortunately, he once again slips into this coma when the boys find a welcoming village. That night, Saidu dies.
Jabati is Ishmael Beah's commanding officer during his service in the Sierra Leone military. Jabati is known for reading and quoting Shakespeare, particularly Julius Caesar; he is also known as an orater who would lecture and exhort his troops for hours in preparation for future combat. Jabati has a flair for the dramatic, once displaying the bodies of a man and his son to the villagers as a deterrent to their fleeing into the forest wehre the rebels are hidden.
Beah comes to trust Jabati as he does no other adult, primarily due to his position of authority and the necessity of such trust to survival. Jabati seemingly betrays Beah by selecting hiim to be among the children taken by UNICEF to be fofered a second chance at normal lives.
Gadafi is the officer in charge of training the boy soldiers under Lieutenant Jabati. He is tough on the boys, but seems motivated to harshness by a desire to see them survive the armed conflict. He does not hesitate to push the boys beyond their sense of humanity, particularly in the instance where he holds a competition to see which boy can kill a prisoner by cutting his throat the most effectively and quickly.
A relative of Beah's father, Tommy is mentioned almost in passing by Beah when the UNICEF worker Leslie tells him he will be placed in a foster home. Tommy is located and immediately comes to begin developing a relationship with Beah. Although Beah is skeptical of any possible connection at first, Tommy's patience and good humor win Beah over to accepting him as his benefactor.
Uncle Tommy and his wife have no children of their own, but have adopted several children from family members unable to care for their own. Beah is the next to last child taken in (Beah's childhood friend Mohamed is the last) by the family. Uncle Tommy provides a safe environment for Beah to recoup from his trauma; this safety is shattered with a resurgence of violence in Freetown and the eventual death by disease of Uncle Tommy.
Esther is the nurse at the UNICEF compound where Beah convalesces following his escape from the life as a child soldier. She attempts to win Beah's trust by patiently showing an interest in him without pushing him. She even uses reverse psychology by challenging Beah to win her trust before she will talk with him at length. She learns of Beah's interests through the school questionnaires and uses this knowledge to break down Beah's emotional barriers. She considers Beah a brother and consoles him in his most dismal emotional troubles.
Laura Simms is a facilitator for the United Nations First Children's Parliament; her workshop is intended to help the children learn more effective ways of communicating their harrowing experiences to their audience. Beah connects with her immediately because she is a storyteller and he comes from a culture strong in storytelling roots. Laura eventually adopts Beah as her son when he escapes the resurgence of violence in Sierra Leone.
Gibrilla is one of the boys who accompanies Beah and Junior after they are forced to leave Mattru Jong.
Talloi is with Junior and Beah when they initially go to Mattru Jong to practice with their dance group. After the rebel attacks, Talloi is among the group of six boys that travel together until the siege of Kamator.
Kaloko travels among the group of six boys from Mattru Jong through Kamator.
Beah, Junior, Talloi, Kaloko, and Gibrilla stay with Khalilou's family in Mattru Jong after the attack on their village. Khalilou's family leaves them to watch the house when the rebels are rumored to have targeted Mattru Jong. These six boys stay together until Kamator is raided.
Beah's best friend before the war. He is unable to travel with the his friends to Mattru Jong for the dance group practice, so he is present when the rebels attack Mogbwemo. Amazingly, Beah is reunited with Mohamed years later at the UNICEF rehabilitation camp.
Before the war, Beah has a complicated relationship with his father. He is a carefree man, invested in the futures of his sons. However, a relationship with a new woman has soured the relationship with his Ishmael and Junior. Still, Beah has fond memories of his father that he comfort him during his ordeal. He is presumed dead.
Beah's mother loves her sons despite the divorce that has torn their family apart. Beah recalls visits with his mother and brother Ibrahim, trips to the market, and her teaching him how to cook during his ordeal. She is presumed dead.
Ishmael's grandmother. Mamie Kpana is a calm presence in Beah's pre-war life.
Beah's younger brother. He lives with their mother following their parents' divorce. Ibrahim attends school unlike his brothers, as his mother is solely devoted to his upbringing. After the attack on Mogbwemo, Beah never sees Ibrahim again.
Sheku is a tent-mate of Beah's at the army-occupied village. They become soldiers together.
Josiah is a tent-mate of Beah's when he becomes a soldier. Josiah dies of a broken back during one of their first raids.
Gasemu recognizes Beah from Mattru Jong. When they arrive to the outskirts of the village where it is rumored his parents have taken refuge in, Gasemu greets the boys. Instead of letting Beah run on to the village, he makes them help him carry bananas. While they are walking on to the village, rebels attack and all are killed. Beah blames Gasemu for keeping him from his family, though he comes to realize that it is not his fault and he is alive, once again, because of a twist of fate.
The head of Benin Home who encourages Beah to speak publicly about his experiences.
A kind worker at Benin Home.
Uncle Tommy's wife. She treats Beah like her own son.
Uncle Tommy's son. Beah and Allie share a room after Beah leaves Benin Home. Allie takes Beah to a dance and gives him city clothes as a way to introduce him to his new, post-war life.
The sponsor from Sierra Leone who accompanies Beah and Bah to New York City.
A Sierra Leonean boy who travels with Beah to represent their country at the UN.
A Long Way Gone Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for A Long Way Gone is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.