A Long Way Gone

By Ishmael Beah,

Book cover of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Book description

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become 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…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked A Long Way Gone as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This memoir captures the journey of child soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone, and shows how once-innocent children with ordinary lives became killing machines in the hands of a ruthless rebel leader. Beah doesn't shy away from the gruesomeness of civil war, but there is beauty in how he weaves this memoir that reads like a novel. Though I am not usually a fan of books with a lot of violence, I was drawn to this one and could not put it down. I believe history is best learned from those who have first-hand experience. This is a…

From Shugri's list on bringing other cultures to life.

During my reporting for TQOK, I was randomly introduced to a former Ugandan child soldier who I have stayed in touch with ever since. His story is both heartbreaking and inspirational just like that of Beah in Sierra Leone. With brutal candor in this extraordinary memoir, Beah tells the story of his transformation from innocent child to ruthless killer and then the challenge of returning to society after being forever changed. I might have written a book about the child soldier I know, but Beah has already done it better than I ever could have.   

From Tim's list on young African heroes.

When I began writing Warchild around 1999, there wasn’t much in the mass media about child soldiers. My ensuing research – from documentaries to articles – supported my desire to tell a story from the point-of-view of a child who did not know and didn’t care about the larger forces at play, these forces that exacted a cost on the most innocent. Though my novel was set in the future, I was adamant still not to make it a jingoistic narrative of easy triumph – but rather to honestly depict the experience of a boy compelled to survive sometimes despite…

From Karin's list on the personal impact of war.

This is a simply but eloquently written book. It’s the story of what happens to a boy who suffers from—and is forced to participate in—the horrors of an extended civil war in Sierra Leone, and of his survival and eventual rehabilitation. It is a wrenching book to read—and yet in the end it’s a heartwarming and inspiring book too, not least of all because Beah so clearly has a warm heart himself. If you read the book, it’s hard not to feel that we should all be doing more to help those to whom Life deals the worst hands. Beah…

This was a difficult pick because it’s not an easy read and, like Angela’s Ashes, has been surrounded by controversy over some incidents. Nevertheless, it is an immensely powerful book based upon the real experiences of a child soldier. Beah has lost two childhoods. The first was 12 years of happy, RAP obsessed kid growing up in rural Sierra Leone. From this, he is ripped by his country’s civil war and forced, through intimidation, violence, and drugs to become a child soldier and commit horrendous acts. Eventually, he is rescued by UNICEF, rehabilitated, and regains his humanity. Several of…

From John's list on memoirs of lost childhood.

Despite having worked in war zones for over a decade including responding to the first genocide of the twenty-first century in Darfur I found Ishmael Beah’s book about his life as a child soldier confronting. Maybe I was always one step removed from the people who were doing the killing or the war in Sierra Leone was particularly debased. Either way, this is a difficult book to read because it shows us in vivid detail the terrible life of gun-totting children. Every time I put the book down, the images painted by Beah lingered in my mind for days on…

From Denis' list on the tragedy of war.

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