A Long Way Gone – Ishmael Beah

Posted 6 April, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 19 Comments


Title: A Long Way Gone
Author: Ishmael Beah
Date Finished: April 5, 2008
Yearly Count: 18
Pages: 218

Sadly, everything I knew about Sierra Leone came from the movie Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio. When I first saw A Long Way Gone on display at Starbucks quite a while ago, I didn’t realize what it was about and it wasn’t until I saw the movie that I started to piece them together. While this book isn’t about conflict diamonds, it is about the atrocities of war–especially a war where children are on the front lines.

Ishmael was twelve when his village was attacked and he was separated from his family. After trying to survive on his own for some time, he is picked up by the army and “recruited” as a soldier. I put “recruit” in quotes because Ishmael makes it clear that he didn’t have much of a choice. The army broke his spirit, and after much exposure to violence, propaganda/brainwashing, and drugs, he himself becomes a killer. After a few years, UNICEF buys his freedom and he is put into a rehabilitation facility.

A Long Way Gone is a truly heartbreaking story which at times is difficult to read because of the horrendous acts of the soldiers, including Ishmael. In my cozy little corner of suburbia it is difficult for me to imagine such things occurring in the world, but Ishmael delivers a story of hope–but I can’t help wonder how much of it was sheer luck for him. Even after he broke from the war and rehabilited, many of those who were also “rehabilitated” rejoined the fighting once they were exposed to it again.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this book–how much of what Ishmael says happened truly did. But is that really the point? Somewhere these things are happening to someone; are we simply in denial? Anyway, I recommend the book. My only regret is that the book ended too soon for me–I want to know what happens next for Ishmael.

19 Responses to “A Long Way Gone – Ishmael Beah”

  1. Oh, wow. i watched Blood Diamond too…it was one of the most impacting movies I watched last year. stunning…but I too know nothing about the situation over there until then. I really need to read this one. Thanks for a great review!!

  2. Joy

    I thought this was a devastatingly terrific book – I assume you know what I mean by that. Anyway, you can google his name or search him out on YouTube. He has done many interviews. I thought it was wonderful to see him after reading the book.

  3. *Nymeth – heartbreaking but important. I guess sometimes that’s how things go.

    *Maw Books – it’s a short little book, so it doesn’t take much time to get through, but it packs a powerful punch.

    *Bethany – I don’t really know the history of many of the African countries. Beah includes a brief chronology of Sierra Leone at the end of the book. Definitely an eye-opener and great start to the OT challenge.

    *Joy – I do know what you mean. I can’t really say I “enjoyed” the book, but I am glad I read it. I have seen a few pictures, but I’ll have to look him up on Youtube. His writing is very eloquent, and I’m sure he’s a powerful speaker.

  4. I’ve had this book on my shelf since last summer. I had hoped to read it during my Africa themed reading month last year, but I didn’t manage to get around to it. It is horrifying, the things going on over there today. Thank you for your thoughtful review.

  5. *Lit Feline – Ohhh, I think I could only manage these books in small doses. Which is horrible on my part as trying to be educated but it breaks my heart. I have a few of your Africa books on my wishlist and hope to get around to a few of them sometime soon.

    *Verbivore – The book is devastating, BUT the boy soldier is writing his own memoir. There is an element of hope in the book.

  6. Trish…Congratulations on being the winner at TWO book drawings! I saw you won both at Novels Now and the Book blogging site! Woo hoo :)

  7. CONGRATS!!! Yay I just saw on Novels now that you won a book, I need you to give me some of your luckiness!!! ehhe…you’ll have fun. Let us know all that you won, it sounds like that wasn’t the only one!! yay, so happy for you.

  8. *3M – what fantasic news! Thanks so much–I think I’ll use it for the upcoming Non-Fiction Five.

    *Wendy – Thanks–I would have never thought that I would win one let alone two. I was cramming at the last minute to fulfill all of the giveaway demands, so I guess it paid off. :)

    *Bethany – Yippee!! I might just have to have a giveaway…one day… :)

  9. I have this one on my list. I’m looking forward to reading it! I think its so important to be aware of these types of things going on in the world-they’re easy to overlook.

  10. I considered this for the non-fiction challenge, but then I somehow cringed away from it.Maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know much about Sierra Leone either,except maybe that it’s the poorest country in the world. It looks like one of those painful but necessary reads that I have to take into account.

  11. I’ve never heard of this one. I read What is the What and was amazed and horrified by it. I can only read books like this every once and a while. I’m going to put this on my list.

  12. *Kim L – For me I think it is more that because I am so far removed I have a hard time understanding that things like this DO actually happen. It was a tough read, but I think an important one.

    *Valentina – I think this one would be a good one for the Non-Fiction Five challenge. And the book is small (just over 200 pages), so in perspective there isn’t THAT much detail. I hope you do read it.

    *Corrine – I haven’t heard of What is the What–I’ll have to check it out. I’d recommend this book, even though I’d put it in the “horrifying” category as well. Thanks for coming by!

  13. Oh gosh, Trish. I have been wanting to read this book for so long and just can’t seem to get to it. I think it is because I try hard to buy as many books from used book stores as possible, and this one has not been in any that I have seen. Too good to relinquish or too good to stay on the shelves. I like your heartfelt review of it.

    By the way, I stopped by your other blog, Love and Travel, when I saw a link on your profile. Your New England trip looked like it was a blast (travel snafu aside!) :)