A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone Study Guide

According to New York Times book reviewer William Boyd, "The great benefit of Ishmael Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone, is that it may help us arrive at an understanding of this situation. Beah's autobiography is almost unique, as far as I can determine -- perhaps the first time that a child soldier has been able to give literary voice to one of the most distressing phenomena of the late 20th century: the rise of the pubescent (or even prepubescent) warrior-killer."

A Long Way Gone is Ishmael Beah's memoir recounting his life in Sierra Leone just prior to and immediately after an attack by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) soldiers on his home village. Beah moves through the vivid memories in a somewhat chronological order, often utilizing flashbacks in appropriate places for added poignancy. Once the book reaches its final chapters, it becomes clear to the reader that what Beah has done is to put into written form a more detailed version of the words he used to move the United Nations to action in Sierra Leone and its neighboring regions.

Beah attempts a journalistic, matter-of-fact tone throughout, most likely to accentuate how desensitized he had become to the horrors around him. He reports matters of maiming and death with simple, direct statements. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to judge the atrocity of both the act and its apparent lack of impact on the perpetrator(s). Conversely, Beah gives over to mellifluous descriptions of natural beauty and nostalgic reminiscences of family occasions to provide a counterpoint to the violence and inhumanity he experiences as both perpetrator and victim.

A Long Way Gone is a plea for understanding of a political and social climate which allows innocent children to become killers. More than that, it is an attempt to move readers to action, essentially asking them to find ways to end the abhorrent tragedies occurring not just on the African continent, but all over the world.