A Long Way Gone

A Long Way Gone Summary and Analysis of Chapter 20


Arriving in New York City, Beah is immediately struck by the dissonance between his rap-music-informed view of the city and what he sees before him. Among the unexpected sights are the many people walking the streets (Beah had imagined everyone driving sports cars). Seeing New York winter for the first time, Beah is amazed and daunted by the extreme cold and learns the word “snow.”

Beah, his traveling companion Bah, and their sponsor Dr. Tamba check into the hotel to stay for the duration of the conference. The morning of the United Nations First International Children’s Parliament, Beah meets 56 other children from 23 different countries, all here to speak before the United Nations. All of the children have difficult lives in common, regardless of where they hail from. Beah connects with a facilitator named Laura Simms, a storyteller who holds a workshop to help the children tell their stories in a more compelling way. Beah is impressed to find a storyteller here in America, so far from his own story-centered culture in Sierra Leone. Laura also procures winter jackets for Beah and Bah, who only have their lightweight African clothing to wear.

Each day the children and facilitators gather to discuss their lives, but also to develop solutions to the problems of their various countries. Each discussion leaves the children hopeful that they can transform their suffering into happiness by making their lives known to the world. On the second night after the conference, Beah and Madoka from Malawi accidentally walk into Times Square. Beah is overcome by the displays everywhere and the glittering buildings.

On the last day of the conference, a child from each country speaks at the UN Economic and Social Council chamber about their experiences. Beah decides to eschew the speech written for him in Freetown in favor of speaking from his heart. He relates his trials and travails and ends by rejecting his identity as a soldier and insisting that taking revenge only perpetuates the cycle of violence. After the presentations, all the children sing a chant they had written together, followed by other songs. Everyone is moved by their sense of unity as well as the knowledge that they are not returning to peaceful homes.

The next evening, Laura accompanies Beah, Bah, and Dr. Tamba to the airport for their return flight to Sierra Leone. By the end of the car ride, everyone but Dr. Tamba is in tears from sorrow over their imminent parting. Laura gives Beah her address and phone number in order to keep in touch. The Sierra Leoneans board the plane and head back home. Beah is days away from his sixteenth birthday.


Beah emphasizes the difference of the world he enters in New York City. Not only the environment and the people, but also the sense of security and love which contrast sharply with Beah’s life in Sierra Leone. Meeting other children who have suffered as well give Beah a sense of belonging that he has missed for so much of his life. He sees that innocence, suffering, and hope transcend political or geographical borders.

Beah telegraphs his future in a flash forward involving Laura Simms: “When she became my mother years later, ashe and I would always talk about whether it was destined or coincidental that I came from a very storytelling-oreinted culture to live with a mother in New York who is a storyteller” (p. 197). Having passed through the worst of his suffering in the memoir, Beah is ready to give the reader hope for Beah himself, to remind us that there is a “happy ending” of sorts. That Beah and his adoptive mother Laura would discuss destiny or coincidence leaves the question open for the reader to ponder as well - was Beah drawn to Laura because of their common bond of storytelling, or is this merely a happy accident? And in the greater scope, is it Laura’s support and eventual adoption of Beah that provides him the opportunity to create this very memoir, so rich in narrative appeal, to recount the horrors and hopes of child soldiers in Sierra Leone?