A Long Way Gone

by Ishmael Beah

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Critical Context

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In its postcolonial era, Africa has been besieged by civil wars and political and social unrest. African writers such as Nadine Gordimer, Athol Fugard, Chinua Achebe, and J. M. Coetzee have chronicled the political upheavals that have scarred their continent. Beah adds his voice to this chorus, and his narrative shines light upon a new atrocity in African civil wars: the use of children as soldiers. Reviewers have compared Beah’s book to David Eggers’s What Is the What (2006), a novel about one of the “lost boys” of Sudan.

Beah’s book is an African story, and he is an American only by migration. Nonetheless, A Long Way Gone can be read in the context of other African American autobiographies, particularly slave narratives. Just as antebellum slaves crossed the Mason-Dixon Line or the Ohio River to escape slavery and find freedom in the North, Beah crosses the Atlantic Ocean to escape the violence and chaos of his war-torn homeland. Like Richard Wright in Black Boy, Beah leaves oppressive native grounds to find freedom and his writer’s voice in a new land.

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Literary Criticism and Significance