Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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 have attacked Mogbwemo. They realize that it is unsafe to return home and that they are likely to be separated from their families for a long time. When rebels move toward Mattru Jong, the boys flee and begin wandering toward the seacoast in search of some safe haven, but they encounter instead the brutal violence and gruesome debris of civil war—ransacked villages, an imam burned alive, a traveling companion shot and killed. Exposed to such violence,...

(The entire section is 781 words.)