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A Long Way Gone

Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Ishmael Beah

Sarah Crichton Books

A Long Way Gone Download image

ISBN10: 0374531269
ISBN13: 9780374531263

Trade Paperback

240 Pages


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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A Time Magazine Best Book of the Year
A Newsweek Favorite Book of the Year
A Quill Book Award Finalist
A Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year
A YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
Winner of the Alex Award

My new friends have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."

"You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it sometime."
"Yes, sometime."

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become the soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he had been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and finally, to heal.

Also available on CD as an unabridged audiobook, read by the author. Please email for more information.


Praise for A Long Way Gone

"What is it about African wars that is so disturbing? Why do they unsettle us so? . . . The great benefit of Ishmael Beah's memoir, A Long Way Gone, is that it may help us arrive at an understanding of this situation. Beah's autobiography is almost unique, as far as I can determine-perhaps the first time that a child soldier has been able to give literary voice to one of the most distressing phenomena of the late 20th century: the rise of the pubescent (or even prepubescent) warrior-killer . . . A Long Way Gone is his first, remarkable book . . . Beah's memoir joins an elite class of writing: Africans witnessing African wars . . . 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, The New York Times Book Review

"Mr. Beah, now 26, speaks in a distinctive voice, and he tells an important story. Hundreds of thousands of child soldiers fight in dozens of nasty conflicts in Africa and elsewhere, and while journalists and the occasional novelist may write about them, A Long Way Gone is a first-person account."—John Corry, The Wall Street Journal

"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 . . . I don't think it's possible to 'understand' this book. A Long Way Gone says something about human nature that we try, most of the time, to ignore. Humans can be murderous, and that doesn't pertain in any way to religion or politics or ideology. These boys, on either side, didn't have the foggiest idea of the reasons for their war. The proselytizers, colonists, foreign entrepreneurs, politicians, even cheesy moviemakers all played a part in it-committing murder by proxy. The murder itself is ubiquitous. The faint good news in these pages is that if we're lucky, very lucky, we may be able to sneak out of this life without being either murderer or victim. But it's nothing to count on."—Carolyn See, The Washington Post Book World

"[Beah's] honesty is exacting, and a testament to the ability of children 'to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance.'"—The New Yorker

"What Beah saw and did during [the war] has haunted him ever since, and if you read his stunning and unflinching memoir, you'll be haunted, too . . . It would have been enough if Ishmael Beah had merely survived the horrors described in A Long Way Gone. That he has written this unforgettable firsthand account of his odyssey is harder still to grasp. Those seeking to understand the human consequences of war, its brutal and brutalizing costs, would be wise to reflect on Ishmael Beah's story."—Chuck Leddy, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Beah's is a story of loss and redemption-from orphan to fighter to international participant in human-rights conferences on child soldiers. While his account of loss is painful to read . . . it is his account of rehabilitation that most occupies the reader's mind-how these children who become addicted to drugs and violence are able to re-enter the world of civil society."—Jeff Rice, Chicago Tribune

"Beah's book tells the harrowing story of a brutal child soldier committing terrible acts. But he said he also wrote the book to highlight the stable life he had in Sierra Leone before the war in the 1990s, and his recovery from the trauma of several years as a child soldier after international organizations were able to get him and other children out of the conflict."—Greg Jonsson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"With a clear eye and a steady cadence, [Beah] recounts how civil war punctured his rural boyhood and mutated him into a 13-year-old killer. Despite the carnage, few readers will be able to look away . . . Unlike Beasts of No Nation, last year's acclaimed novel about child soldiers, Beah's book stands on the power of witness. At the United Nations, he tells us, 'I had a speech that had been written for me in Freetown, but I decided to speak from my heart, instead.' So he has. And every reader of A Long Way Gone will be appalled and grateful."The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

"A Long Way Gone, Beah's harrowing account of the civil war in his native Sierra Leone, provides the fullest picture of just how inexorable the plunge into war is for many children . . . If Beah's memoir depicts how easily children are lured into combat, it also examines how difficult it is for them to emerge from it."—Fatin Abbas, The Nation

"Beah's story is a wrenching survivor's tale, but there's no self-pity or political digression to be found. Raw and honest, A Long Way Gone is an important account of the ravages of war, and it's most disturbing as a reminder of how easy it would be for any of us to break, to become unrecognizable in such extreme circumstances . . . Beah's uncompromising voice is a potent elegy for their suffering, a powerful reminder of the innocent casualties of war."The Miami Herald

"Beah tells his amazing and agonizing story in a new memoir, A Long Way Gone. It is a story that pulls no punches as it describes a depravity that, until recently, has gone largely unnoticed . . . If you can read A Long Way Gone without being touched somewhere deep inside, you might need to think about changing the ice water in your veins."The Denver Post

"That Beah survived at all, let alone survived with any capacity for hope and joy at all, is stunning, and testament to incredible courage-both his and that of the millions of men and women who fight against wars with eerie grace and grim patience. That Beah could then craft a memoir like this, in his second language no less, is astounding and even thrilling, for A Long Way Gone is a taut prose arrow against the twisted lies of wars. Whatever excuses and defenses and rationalizations we offer for war, whenever we say that war is any sort of rational act, Beah's voice is now forever raised to call war what it is: madness."The Oregonian (Portland)

"It was with a certain amount of dread that I cracked open the cover of this book, a little frightened of what horror lay in store. And this book is, indeed, filled with horror and haunting imagery-but it is also about hope and resilience, too . . . As I read, I flipped the book over again and again to look at the large color photo of the author on the back, trying to reconcile lines like "we walked around the village and shot everyone who came out of the houses and huts" with the image of Beah's sweet, widely-smiling face. Beah's ability to persevere is astonishing, his very survival a testament to some kind of ferocious will. He witnessed small children, sudden orphans, wandering the streets crying for their dead parents; listened to his friend's account of his sisters' rape; saw a man who had had all his fingers but the thumbs cut off. He participated in atrocious acts that made him no better than the rebels who'd killed his family, taken advantage of by a military who robbed him of his childhood. Yet he is somehow, today, a successful young man, a kind human being, and a lesson on the unthinkable horrors of war."—Anne Wilmoth, Feminist Review

"Beah writes to recount, not to relive the ghastly memories, or to shock or guilt-trip his readers. His language is simple and his tone somewhat detached, as though to delimit the frightening reach of that world. Often, he relies on the distanced perspective of a storyteller. But when Beah is finally approached about the possibility of serving as a spokesperson on the issue of child soldiers, he knows exactly what he wants to tell the world: '"We can be rehabilitated," I would emphasize, and point to myself as an example. I would always tell people that I believe children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance." Others may make the same assertions, but Beah has the advantage of stating them in the first person. That makes A Long Way Gone all the more gripping."—Carol Huang, The Christian Science Monitor

"Beah is an eloquent writer who paints clear and poignant pictures of each circumstances he encountered on his journey as a boy who went from fearing the violence of the civil war in his country at age 12 too reveling in the torture of other human beings after being recruited by the government army at age 13 . . . Beah's memoir is a must-read for anyone who wants an education in the psychological impact of war on children."—Anita Jackson-Hall, US Catholic

"A fascinating theme in A Long Way Gone is the cultural mishmash that informs Beah's memories. Readers even vaguely familiar with hip-hop and reggae will be both amused and shocked by the ways they shaped the author's vision of war . . . Amid the war's blood, filth and hunger, Beah also inserts . . . powerful fragments of traditional African folklore. His willingness to share the comfort that things like tall tales, the face of the moon, or the smell of traditional foods bring him is sobering. It is also evident how painful it is to record them . . . Scenes the author witnessed and participated in are described in gruesome detail . . . In place of a text that has every right to be a diatribe against Sierra Leone, globalization or even himself, Beah has produced a book of such self-effacing humanity that refugees, political fronts and even death squads resolve themselves back into the faces of mothers, father and siblings. A Long Way Gone transports us into the lives of thousands of children whose lives have been altered by war, and it does so with a genuine and disarmingly emotional force."—Richard Thompson, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Terrifying, often graphic in portraying the violence he both witnessed and carried out as a barely adolescent soldier in Sierra Leone, 26-year-old Beah's story is also deeply moving, even uplifting . . . Reports about child soldiers and the crises in Africa proliferate, but Beah's story, with its clear-eyed reporting and literate particularity-whether he's dancing to rap, eating a coconut or running toward the burning village where his family is trapped-demands to be read."People

"Beah's memoir, A Long Way Gone, is unforgettable testimony that Africa's children-millions of them dying and orphaned by preventable diseases, hundreds of thousands of them forced into battle-have eyes to see and voices to tell what has happened. And what voices! How is it possible that 26-year-old Beah, a nonnative English speaker, separated from his family at age 12, taught to maim and to kill at 13, can sound such notes of family happiness, of friendship under duress, of quiet horror? No outsider could have written this book, and it's hard to imagine that many insiders could do so with such acute vision, stark language, and tenderness. It is a heart-rending achievement."—Melissa Fay Greene, Elle

"Most of A Long Way Gone describes Ishmael's life before and after he is forced to fight. He takes only 25 pages to describe the horrors and habits of his life as a guerilla. This brevity and the relative lack of interior dialogue or emotion throughout the book are as telling as the narrative. It is astounding that Ishmael survived at all, let alone that he is able to remember, sane enough to recount his experiences, and intelligent enough to do so in a foreign tongue, English. The sparse prose gives the sense that he wrote this memoir as much to mark his passage out of hell, in case he should again have to wonder there, as he did to enlighten us."—Lucas Lund, Hippo

"This is the powerful, poignant story of Ishmael Beah, who grew up in Sierra Leone, and at age twelve was displaced and torn from his family because of war, and began to wander with a group of displaced boys, who endured brutal hardships and were also taught to kill and brutalize people before maturity. Later on, Beah joins the government forces and eventually finds himself in a program to rehabilitate children who have become soldiers, and later on he escapes all of this as a refugee to USA. Although not so detailed with the specifics of history and the Sierra Leone civil war and 'blood diamonds' and 'lost boys', this makes up for it in Beah's vivid personal detail of how he was torn from his family, and thrown into a life of survival and savagery, and how later through all of it he managed to later realize his hopes and dreams. To me, it shows the resilience of the human spirit and also how even though sometimes in order to survive, our life directs us into circumstances beyond our control, and yet, we still all have the capability to find compassion, hope and peace within ourselves. I cannot imagine how someone like Ishmael Beah could live through all of this, and today become an inspiration and beacon of hope for millions of people. Thank you Ishmael for sharing your story with the world!"—Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea

"A beautifully written book about a shocking war and the children who were forced to fight it. Beah describes the unthinkable in calm, unforgettable language; his memoir is an important testament to the children elsewhere who continue to be conscripted into armies and militias."—Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars

"One of the most important war stories of our generation. The arming of children is among the greatest evils of the modern world, and yet we know so little about it because the children themselves are swallowed up by the very wars they are forced to wage. Beah has not only emerged intact from this chaos, he has become one of its most eloquent chroniclers."—Sebastian Junger, author of A Death in Belmont and A Perfect Storm

"This is a wrenching, beautiful, and mesmerizing tale. Beah's amazing saga provides a haunting lesson about how gentle folks can be capable of great brutalities as well goodness and courage. It will leave you breathless."—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

"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 . . . [A] halting narrative . . . [that is] hideously effective in conveying the essential horror of his experiences."—Kirkus Reviews

"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, humanity, bravery, and, yes, peace . . . 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 [is] especially relevant in today's world."Library Journal

"This remarkable firsthand account shows how civil strife destroys lives . . . The horrors [Ishmael Beah] saw or perpetrated still haunt him and will be difficult for the reader to forget . . . Beah writes his story with painful honesty, horrifying detail, and touches of remarkable lyricism. This young writer has a bright future . . . As children fight on in dreadful wars around the globe, Beah's story is a must."—Rayna Patton, VOYA

"Gripping . . . Told in a conversational, accessible style, this powerful record of war ends as a beacon to all teens by showing them that there are other ways to survive than by adding to the chaos."—Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, Virginia, School Library Journal

"This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone's civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare . . . Told in clear, accessible language by a young writer with a gifted literary voice, this memoir seems destined to become a classic firsthand account of war and the ongoing plight of child soldiers in conflicts worldwide."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Introduction, Part One - Author Interview with Ishmael Beah

An interview with former Sierra Leonean child soldier Ishmael Beah about his memoir, A Long Way Gone.

About the author

Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah was born in 1980 in Sierra Leone, West Africa. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vespertine Press, LIT, Parabola, and numerous academic journals. He is a UNICEF Ambassador and Advocate for Children Affected by War; a member of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Advisory Committee; an advisory board member at the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; visiting scholar at the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University; visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights at Rutgers University; cofounder of the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW); and president of the Ishmael Beah Foundation. He has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and many panels on the effects of war on children. His book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier has been published in over thirty languages and was nominated for a Quill Award in 2007. Time magazine named the book as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2007, ranking it at number three. Ishmael Beah is a graduate of Oberlin College with a B.A. in Political Science and resides in Brooklyn, New York.

John Madere

Ishmael Beah

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