Long Way Gone (Beah)

Book Reviews
Beah’s memoir joins an elite class of writing: Africans witnessing African wars. I think of Sozaboy, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s masterly novel about a young soldier during the Biafran war, or Machete Season, Jean Hatzfeld’s book of blood-chilling interviews with Rwandan killers. A Long Way Gone makes you wonder how anyone comes through such unrelenting ghastliness and horror with his humanity and sanity intact. Unusually, the smiling, open face of the author on the book jacket provides welcome and timely reassurance. Ishmael Beah seems to prove it can happen.
William Boyd - New York Times


Everyone in the world should read this book. Not just because it contains an amazing story, or because it's our moral, bleeding-heart duty, or because it's clearly written. We should read it to learn about the world and about what it means to be human.
Carolyn See - Washington Post


In 1993, when the author was twelve, rebel forces attacked his home town, in Sierra Leone, and he was separated from his parents. For months, he straggled through the war-torn countryside, starving and terrified, until he was taken under the wing of a Shakespeare-spouting lieutenant in the government army. Soon, he was being fed amphetamines and trained to shoot an AK-47 (“Ignore the safety pin, they said, it will only slow you down”). Beah’s memoir documents his transformation from a child into a hardened, brutally efficient soldier who high-fived his fellow-recruits after they slaughtered their enemies—often boys their own age—and who “felt no pity for anyone.” His honesty is exacting, and a testament to the ability of children “to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance.
New Yorker Magazine


Beah's harrowing story of a boy caught up in the civil strife in Sierra Leone is not an audio to curl up with before bedtime. Beah's even-toned narrative is particularly disturbing because it's almost exactly the same whether he is enjoying the company of a newly found uncle or busy shooting and maiming rebels and even burying them alive. His monotone works particularly well when he is recounting his dreams, for he cannot distinguish his nightmares from his waking life. Beah speaks with a thick accent that omits "th" sounds. Many words are understandable in their context, but a few are not. He also stumbles over some longer and more complex words. Despite these drawbacks, Beah's tale is a riveting snapshot of childhoods stolen from all too many, not just in Sierra Leone but in Somalia, Iraq, Palestine and other places ravaged by civil wars.
Publishers Weekly


Rarely does one encounter anything but outrage, sadness, and pain when reading about the exploitation of child soldiers, but Beah's account also offers hope, humility, bravery, and, yes, peace. Beah was 13 years old when rebels attacked nearby villages in his native Sierra Leone. He was separated from his family (he learned later that they perished) and was on the run from both the rebels and the Sierra Leone Military Forces for over a year. Eventually captured by the military, which could behave as horrendously as the rebels, the boy was forced to join the army, carrying guns or grenade launchers. Like the thousands of other children traumatized by these events, Beah needed rehabilitation when his "tour of duty" was over. A former juvenile center turned counseling house afforded him a safe haven. After being chosen to speak at a UN conference in New York, he began the long process of relocating to the United States. The brutality of war is brought out early in this narrative, and just to have survived is amazing. Beah writes with frankness and honesty about his experiences but also with other people in mind; his account of the healing process after the horrors he saw is remarkable. His book, especially relevant in today's world, should be in all high school, public, and academic libraries.
James Thorsen - Library Journal


The survivor of a dirty war in starkest Africa recounts his transition from 12-year-old orphan to killing machine. To emerge from Sierra Leone's malignant civil conflict and eventually graduate from college in the U.S. marks Beah as very unusual, if not unique. His memoir seeks to illuminate the process that created, and continues to create, one of the most pitiable yet universally feared products of modern warfare: the boy soldier. It illustrates how, in African nations under the stress of open civil war, youthful males cluster in packs for self-protection, fleeing the military forces of all sides, distrusted and persecuted by strangers they encounter, until they are killed or commandeered as recruits. Nearly half the text deals with Beah's life as a fugitive after marauding rebel troops ravaged his home village. He fled with several other boys, but they were separated during another attack and he was forced to spend several weeks alone in the bush; the loneliness there instilled a craving for human companionship of any type. The regular military finally snared Beah and some new companions, telling them they must train as soldiers or die. The rebels, they were assured, were responsible for killing their families and destroying their homes; as soldiers, they would exact manly revenge and serve the nation. Cocaine, marijuana and painkillers became the boys' mind-numbing daily diet. They were indoctrinated by practicing mayhem on tethered prisoners and became willing experts at lying in ambush with their aging AK-47 rifles. For them, killing human beings had replaced ordinary child's play. Beah's halting narrative has confusing time shifts, but it's hideously effective in conveying the essential horror of his experiences.
Kirkus Reviews

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