Ishmael Beah's memoir gives voice to a disturbing phenomenon: the rise of a pubescent soldier and killer. A Long Way Gone is Beah's account of how he is forced to fight Sierra Leone's civil war. Sierra Leone is a former British colony located between Guinea and Liberia. Post-colonialism, Sierra Leone suffers from corruption, unrest, and military coups. In the 1990s, civil strife in Liberia prompts the rise of the Revolutionary United Front, a brutal militia that takes over Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. The civil war leads to the massacre, mutilation, and displacement of thousands of people.
A twelve-year-old Beah is caught in the savagery and forced to fight for the Revolutionary United Front with many other children. Beah suffers separation from his parents, months of flight from danger, starvation, harassment, and desperation as he struggles to make sense of what goes on in his life. With a basic training in the use of assault rifle and all the drugs he can consume, Beah embarks on a two-year killing spree.
Eventually, UNICEF rescues him and sends him to a rehabilitation center. Beah addresses the United Nations and other international forums to advocate for children caught in the horrors of war.