Form and Content (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
A Long Way Gone records the harrowing experiences of Ishmael Beah as he journeys with his brother and friends through his homeland of Sierra Leone during the civil war that took place in that African nation from 1991 through 2002. Beah becomes an unwilling boy soldier in that conflict after being separated from his parents and hometown of Mogbwemo in southern Sierra Leone.
The author’s journey begins innocently enough. Twelve-year-old Beah, his older brother Junior, and a friend leave Mogbwemo on foot and head for Mattru Jong, sixteen miles away, to participate in a talent show. The boys intend to perform rap music in the show, and they embark on their journey wearing baggy pants and carrying backpacks filled with notebooks of rap lyrics and rap cassettes. This innocent journey, however, commences against the backdrop of a violent civil war that has already exploded in Sierra Leone. President Joseph Saidu Momoh has been ousted in a military coup, and his replacement, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), is, according to Beah, corrupt. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has been sacking villages in an attempt to create chaos and prove that the NPRC is ineffective. On their journey to Mattru Jong, Beah and his party see refugees on the road, leaving villages attacked by the RUF and telling stories of harrowing violence and human suffering.
While Beah and his brother and friend are in Mattru Jong, they learn that rebels...
(The entire section is 781 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
A Long Way Gone (Magill's Literary Annual 2008)
While readers in the United States might occasionally read a news report that mentions child soldiers or encounter statistics about the fate of children in war zones, few can imagine how average people, and especially children, could take part in the atrocities. Ishmael Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, tells how an ordinary boy became a ruthless soldier and then overcame his terrible experiences. The memoir not only highlights the complexity of human nature under stress but also adds an important voice to political and policy discussions on the effects of war on children.
Beah acknowledges in the prologue (dated New York City, 1998) that readers will probably be emotionally distant from the subject matter. For part of a page, he provides details that set up a contrast with what will follow. The narrator describes speaking with high school friends who are curious about the war in his home country. They think it is “cool” that Beah “saw people running around with guns and shooting each other.” He promises to tell them about it sometime.
The prologue anchors the story as one told after the fact by a storyteller to friends. Although many of the details in the memoir are horrific, Beah helps the reader through it by maintaining the tone of a storyteller somewhat distanced from what has happened. Though many of Beah’s memories include tragedy, personal loss, and extreme violence, he lets the facts speak...
(The entire section is 1725 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Abbas, Fatin. “The New Face of War.” The Nation 284 (May 28, 2007): 38-44. Review essay discussing Beah’s A Long Way Gone, P. W. Singer’s Children at War, and Jimmie Briggs’s Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War.
Beah, Ishmael. “Interview with Ishmael Beah.” Kennedy School Review 7 (2007): 1-5. Beah discusses his book, his life since leaving Sierra Leone, and his efforts to enact international laws against the use of child soldiers.
Luscombe, Belinda. “Pop Culture Finds Lost Boys.” Time 169 (February 12, 2007): 62-64. Predicts rock-star status for Ishmael Beah based on his book, his engaging personality, and his eloquence as a public speaker.
Mengestu, Dinaw. “Children of War.” New Statesman 136 (June 18, 2007): 60-61. Discusses A Long Way Gone and two other books about boy soldiers—David Eggers’s What Is the What and Biyi Bandele’s Burma Boy (2007).
Pham, John-Peter. The Sierra Leonean Tragedy: History and Global Dimensions. New York: Nova Science, 2006. Comprehensive history of the 1990’s civil war in Sierra Leone.
(The entire section is 160 words.)