A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

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9780007247080: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

The first-person account of a 26-year-old who fought in the war in Sierra Leone as a 12-year-old boy.

This is the story of how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. In more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated 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. Ishmael Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve in Sierra Leone, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found he was capable of truly terrible acts.

This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty. Ishmael Beah came to the United States when he was seventeen, and graduated from Oberlin College in 2003. He lives in New York City.

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Review:

'A corrosive, eloquent and illuminating account of a child soldier's life, and it makes you look at the news with a fresh eye. What he has done is to make his situation imaginable for us, and stop us from simply turning away in horror. That is the best gift he could give the world.' Hilary Mantel

'The arming of children is one of 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. Ishmael Beah has not only emerged intact from this chaos, he has become one of its most eloquent chroniclers. “A Long Way Gone” is one of the most important war stories of our generation. We ignore its message at our peril.' Sebastian Junger

'A ferocious and desolate account of how ordinary children were turned into professional killers.' The Guardian

'A remarkable book…makes you wonder how anyone comes through such horror with his humanity and sanity intact. Ishmael Beah seems to prove it can happen.' William Boyd

‘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 remarkable book…“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

‘Beautifully expressed.’ Rob Liddle, Sunday Times ‘Books of the Year’

‘Beah's exceptional story ought to make most memoirists embarrassed.' Kate Guest, Independent ‘Books of the Year’

'A gifted writer, he has transformed a brutalised childhood into an exploration of what it means to be human.' Daily Mail

'This is a journey into the Heart of Darkness – and back…it reads like a description of a nightmare.' The Financial Times

'Beah succeeds admirably in representing the simple emotions of his younger self, notably the fears that began to multiply as his friends started to die of hunger…His memoir of a life he has now escaped is written with an unforced mastery of narrative and imagery. In time, this short but powerful book may well takes its place alongside the “Diary of Anne Frank” as a classic evocation of adolescence and war.' Literary Review

'A vitally important story about life and loss of innocence in the Third World.' In Dublin

'The simplicity with which Ishmael tells his story carries conviction. If this is not a literary masterpiece, it is indeed an important book. The author bears witness on behalf of hundreds of thousands of child soldiers, almost none of whose stories attain such a tolerable ending as his own.' Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

'An astonishing confession.' The Observer

'Beah's memoir is unforgettable testimony that Africa's children have eyes to see and voices to tell what has happened. 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.' Elle Magazine

'Everyone in the world should read this book.' Washington Post

'We are glued to every page…read his memoir and you will be haunted.' Newsweek

'A breathtaking and un-self-pitying account of how a gentle spirit survives a childhood from which all innocence has suddenly been sucked out. It's a truly riveting memoir.' Time Magazine

From the Publisher:

Giving the World a Story
by Ishmael Beah

Writing A Long Way Gone was a decision to make a constant and active journey into my past, all of it. This required a reawakening of happy and painful memories and a deep exploration of them, regardless of the difficulties, physical, emotional and psychological, that came with this task. This journey within myself became a solitary process as the act of writing and remembering needed this necessary loneliness. When the book was completed, I felt so exhausted within my entire being that I thought I wouldn't have the strength to continue revisiting my past. The loneliness of writing had slightly made me forget that the most important purpose of it was to share my stories with others, the readers, some of whom have become friends and family by visiting my homeland via the telling of my life.

When the book was first released here in the United States, I did not know how I would deal with people's reaction to it. I wasn't even sure that there would be a tremendous interest in the story. Nevertheless, I knew that it would be another aspect of journeying into the past, that it would require more of me and this time not in solitude, as it was with the writing of the book. Since 1998, when I came to live in the United States, I hadn't told the story of my life, in its entirety, to many people. With the release of the book and travelling around to speak about it, the dynamics of withholding completely changed.

I remember how overwhelmed I felt when I did my first reading in New York City. The feeling reminded me of my first day of school when I was a little boy. There were so many eyes and all staring at me that I felt my face warming up from the energies projected onto me by their looking. Another thing that was simultaneously shocking and moving was the diversity of the crowd. There were people of all ages and from all walks of life. Teachers had brought their pupils, mothers had brought their children who were as young as eleven, and I later learned that some of the young people present had introduced their parents to the book and brought them to the reading. The energy in the room was welcoming, celebratory, sad, uplifting and above all it was filled with an air of expectation for what I had to say. It became very clear to me then that the writing of the book was not enough, that people needed to hear my voice and that I needed to share my experiences directly with them. This desire made me happy because I knew then that I had opened a door for an in-depth discussion of the use of children in war. In addition, this rapport required not only the sharing of my story but facilitated the brainstorming of what can be done, what has been done, to prevent this appalling phenomenon of using children in war.

At the end of the reading, I opened the floor for questions. There was a bit of delay as some people were wiping tears from their eyes, others hissing and some perhaps just not knowing what was the right question to ask, what was appropriate to say. I felt the emotions and confusion in the room and decided to say something to make everyone comfortable. 'Please do not hesitate to ask me anything you want. You will not offend me at all. And it is only by asking honest, difficult and thoughtful questions that we can all begin to understand what war does to the human spirit,' I said. The questions then started coming. First they were about my earlier childhood before the war, and then there were those about the war and rehabilitation, how I came to find myself in New York, etc. The signing of books followed this and almost everyone wanted to give me a hug. A remarkable thing that happened at that event that I will never forget was when a little girl who I hadn't seen during the reading gave me a teddy bear and said, 'You can still have your childhood.' She was no more than nine years old. This stood out particularly for me because it was such a simple yet meaningful and heartfelt gesture. She smiled and walked away into the arms of her weeping mother. Throughout the book tour, that still continues and I have received similar gestures. People have given me things such as a belt buckle with the head of a lion, rap cassettes, all of which I had lost during the war, and so many other items including meaningful letters. Through these gestures and letters, I have come to learn that my story has become theirs and that our common humanity has connected.

In my Mende tribe in Sierra Leone, there is a saying that 'When you tell a story, you give it out to the world and whoever listens becomes a part of that story; the story becomes theirs in how they relate to it, use it and find whatever meaning they can in the telling.' I believe that this is what has happened with writing about my experiences. Even though it is a personal story, the issue that the book puts a human face to is bigger than everyone and me. Therefore, each person has been able to make that human connection that is specifically their own. I only act as a facilitator for this journey of discovering and being exposed to the lives of others in different parts of the world.

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Beah, Ishmael
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