A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis of Chapter 1


Beah begins the memoir by describing how unreal rumors of the war seem to his ten-year-old world. His view of war, he states, had been colored by “those that I had read about in books or seen in movies such as Rambo: First Blood” (p. 5). Two years later, in January of 1993, the war hits home for him when Ishmael, his friend Talloi and brother Junior visit the village of Mattru Jong to see some old friends and practice their rap group performance for an upcoming talent show. The local friends arrive home early with the news that school has been cancelled since Mogbwemo, Beah’s home sixteen miles away, has been attacked by rebels. One Mattru Jong friend, Gibrilla, states that the teachers believe Mattru Jong itself will be the rebels’ next target. Despite this possibility, many refugees from Mobwembo flee to Mattru Jong; therefore, Beah and his friends go to the nearby wharf to await the incoming people and look for their families among the refugees. When no one they know arrives after several hours, the boys decide to head back to Mogbwemo to find their families. Ishmael is concerned about his Father, Mother and younger brother Ibrahim. (His parents are divorced).

En route to Mogbwemo, the boys stop at Kabati, the village of Beah’s grandmother Mamie Kpana, just as they had on their outbound trip. In contrast to the earlier hospitality they had received by Beah’s grandmother, the deserted village offers nothing but ominous silence. When evening arrives, so do several people who had evacuated to the nearby mining area. Beah is struck by the sound of crying children looking for their parents and babies wailing for food; he also sees adults bleeding, vomiting and reacting with hysteria to the catastrophe that has befallen them. As the boys debate the wisdom of returning to the site of the rebel attack, they see a mother carrying her dead baby on her back. She stops to take the baby in her arms - bullets are visible in the infant’s body - and cradles it, too shocked to shed tears for her dead child. This incident forces the boys to resolve that Mogbwemo is no longer livable and so they decide to return to Mattru Jong.

In Mattru Jong, Beah is reunited with his grandmother. The boys all take up residence there and spend every morning at the wharf seeking news about their missing families and the war. The boys distract themselves by memorizing American rap lyrics from Ishmael's cassettes. An old man encourages Beah that they should “be like the moon”. When Ishmael asks his grandmother what this means, she explains that even though people complain when the sun shines too brightly, no one is annoyed by the brightness of the moon. Good things happen when the moon is full and its light is at its greatest. Beah remembers his own experiences as a six-year-old boy, lying on the ground at night looking up at the moon. He remembers the various images he saw in the moon, and in recalling this pleasant memory from his childhood, he is encouraged.


Ishmael Beah takes a matter-of-fact tone in his memoir. Although he is recounting great horrors experienced by his twelve-year-old self, he does not dwell on lurid details or seem to exaggerate for dramatic effect. He states plainly what he sees and what he thinks, allowing the reader to reach his or her own conclusions regarding the rebel attack on his home village of Mogbwemo.

While taking an objective stance, Beah nonetheless makes use of narrative techniques in his writing. Foremost among them is his use of flashbacks to give necessary background to an impending scene (and also to heighten tension). In the section he begins with “The first time that I was touched by war I was twelve” (p. 6), he immediately launches into a flashback detailing the origin of his rap group conceived by himself and his friends Talloi and Mohamed and his older brother Junior. This gives the reader important information regarding Beah’s motive for walking to neighboring Mattru Jong on the day his own village is attacked by rebels. The boys are immersed in the western culture of rap music and oblivious to the dangers of violence posed by the rebel factions in Sierra Leone. In this way, Beah is able to connect his experience more universally to others whose childhood experiences consist of acts of leisure, such as learning the lyrics to pop music and imitating their favorite entertainers.

This flashback, as well as later ones involving a visit to his mother and the last time he saw his father, heighten the poignancy and confusion birthed by the rebel attack on Mogbwemo. Beah was not ready for such a drastic change in his world, so he and his friends find themselves in shock for several days following the news of his village’s destruction. The loss of his family numbs him as he attempts to assimilate how tragically and catastrophically his world has changed. By the end of the chapter, he is still hopeful that something good will happen, and that the violence will end soon.