Ishmael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone (2007) documents Beah’s time spent as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The memoir begins in 1998 in New York City and flashes back to Beah’s life in his village, Mogbwemo. There, he, his brother Junior, and his friends Mohamed, and Talloi memorize hip-hop lyrics by the Sugar Hill Gang and dance to the beats of the music. While the boys are on their way to participate in a friend's talent show, the rebel army attacks their village, scattering the villagers in all directions. The boys cross the river and are out of immediate harm’s way, but the rebel army continually threatens to catch up with them. Beah and his friends eventually find their way into a village controlled by the government army, and in exchange for food and shelter, the boys must become child soldiers for the army. Killing becomes an everyday event.
Only after UNICEF steps in is Beah released from the army and put on the path to rehabilitation. He learns the gift of sharing his story with others as a way to heal. When the war comes knocking at his door a second time, he resolves to not become swallowed by the ghosts of the past and makes a dangerous trek across Sierra Leone to the safety of Guinea and eventually New York.
A Long Way Gone stands as a voice for the estimated 300,000 child soldiers who are still part of ongoing conflicts around the world today. Beah has spoken before the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations, and he continues to speak on panels hosted by NGOs that work on behalf of children’s rights. Beah is a member of the Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch which is dedicated to protecting the rights of people around the world.
Beah has been praised by critics for speaking honestly about his experiences in the war. Throughout the memoir, Beah refrains from self-pity and is critical of the person he became during the war. In early 2008, reporters from The Australianchallenged Beah’s recall of events and claimed that his true family were not the people Beah names in the memoir. After sending reporters to Beah’s home village in Sierra Leone, the reporters were forced to recant their claims after learning the truth of Beah’s past. In a press release, Beah commented, “I was right about my family. I am right about my story. This is not something one gets wrong.” Thus, Beah emerges from the pages of his memoir as a reliable, sympathetic voice.