Page 1

Erin Drummond, Sophie Slinkard, Sarah Clayton

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier Ishmael Beah

Table of Contents Page 2: Introduction Page 3: Objectives Pages 4-6: Characters Pages 7-8: Plot Summary Page 9: Historical Snapshot Page 10: About the Author Page 11: Culture of Sierra Leone Pages 12-14: Themes Pages 15-16: Works Cited


Pre-war Sierra Leone

Introduction Most of us are able to say we had childhoods full of happiness and laughter. We went to the park, rode bikes with our friends, and played pretend. As we relive these amazing moments of our pasts, we are filled with bliss and nostalgia. However, while our lives as children were seeped with love, Ishmael Beah’s was occupied by loss in the face of war. At the young age of 12, Ishmael’s life was torn apart. He was forced to flee his home and lost his entire family in the process. Then, he was captured by and forced into the Sierra Leonean army, which manipulated and manifested his anger. He was stripped of his identity, handed an AK-47, and trained to kill. For three years, all that Ishmael knew was murder and drugs. Brutality became a competition and violence became a lifestyle.

How does one recover from this? How does one forgive himself for the terrible things he came to enjoy doing? On the road to healing, as portrayed in his memoir A Long Way Gone, Ishmael faced trials in forgiveness, identity, and humanity.


Objectives ❏ To understand the terror and horror that child soldiers face ❏ To raise awareness that will prevent such atrocities from happening to more children in the future ❏ To explore the theme of humanity at its lowest points ❏ To remind readers that people can change: no one is too far gone ❏ To give hope to those that have lost themselves and those that have done things they regret


Characters â?–

Ishmael Beah: the main protagonist of the book, Ishmael, is a teenager living in Sierra Leone during the midst of a civil war. He becomes a child soldier for the government and is later placed in rehab, after which he has continued to advocate for an end to children fighting in combat


Esther: one of the nurses that cares for Ishmael and other ex-child soldiers in rehabilitation. She takes a liking to Ishmael, giving him his favorite cassette tapes and helping him deal with his past actions. While it is later revealed that Ishmael took a liking to Esther, they never see each other again after Ishmael goes to live with his uncle.



Characters ❖ Laura Simms: Laura is a storyteller in New York City whom Ishmael befriended. Along with letters, she sent Ishmael money and later became his foster mother when he fled to New York City ❖


The Lieutenant: As the head of the army in Yele, Lieutenant Jabati became a sort of mentor and role model to Ishmael as they bonded over their love of Shakespeare. Eventually, however, the Lieutenant releases Ishmael to rehabilitation. Uncle Tommy: Ishmael’s paternal uncle who took him in after rehabilitation. Although Uncle Tommy is introduced later in the novel, he is significant in Ishmael’s life as he provided him with a sense of family. However, the war eventually reached his city and in an effort to avoid becoming a soldier again, Ishmael was forced to flee to New York City to escape the fighting.

Characters â?–

The Beah Family: Although insignificant to the storyline, the Beah family left a lasting impact on Ishmael. Ishmael loved his family, which consisted of his two brothers, Junior and Ibrahim, and his divorced parents. The family was separated in the invasion of their village. Unfortunately, right as Ishmael was about to reunite with his family, they were killed in another village invasion. This becomes the source of anger that drives Ishmael to violence out of a need for justice.


The Boys: Throughout the story., Ishmael encounters many boys just like him, boys that had lost everything fleeing from the war. These boys become a support system of sorts to Ishmael, and they help each other through the difficult times. Many of them accompany Ishmael to rehabilitation, but Ishmael never sees the boys again after he goes to live with his uncle.


Plot Summary Ishmael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone is his story, starting when he was only 12 years old, when he lived in a village in the country of Sierra Leone. He and his friends made their way to a talent competition in the neighboring village of Mattru Jong. Sadly, while Ishmael and the boys were away, Ishmael’s village was attacked by RUF (Revolutionary United Front) fighters. Months of wandering from village to village ensued for the boys, who were just trying to survive and make it to safety. They faced many near-death experiences and had to steal to get food.


One day, in another village attack by RUF fighters, Ishmael was separated from the group and his brother. After some time walking through villages and forests, Ishmael met another group of boys he knew from school, and they embark on another journey of survival. They come across a village where Ishmael’s family is believed to be living, but the RUF fighters attack it before the boys can get to the village. After that, Ishmael and the boys head for Yele, a city occupied by government soldiers believed to be safe.

Plot Summary Once the boys reach Yele, they believed that they had finally found safety. However, as RUF fighters moved closer to the village, Ishmael and his friends were manipulated by the Lieutenant to fight for the government. Ishmael and his friends fought for the army for three years, addicted to drugs and excited by murder. However, everything changed when a UNICEF worker arrived at the village and Ishmael was taken to a rehabilitation center in Freetown, the country’s capital. In rehabilitation, Ishmael healed mentally and physically with the help of Esther and his friends.

Ishmael was later sent to live with his Uncle Tommy in Freetown, where he was once again part of a family. During this time, Ishmael attended and spoke at a conference in New York City, which was focused on children in the war. In New York, he met and bonded with Laura Simms. Soon after Ishmael returned to Sierra Leone, the civil war reached Freetown, where Ishmael and his new family resided. Terrified of becoming a soldier again, Ishmael fled the country and eventually moved to New York, where he was adopted by Laura Simms.


Historical Snapshot


Today, Sierra Leone is still feeling the effects of conflict. After many peace negotiations among other things, the RUF was finally quelled in 2002 with the end of the civil war and peace negotiations. With many of the UNICEF and United Nations guards leaving the country, it seems as though the conflict is settling. In 2006, war crime trials began being investigated and actual elections were held. The country then declared another state of emergency in 2016, when ebola outbreaks killed thousands. The outbreak is now under control. The current leader of Sierra Leone, as of April 2018, is Julius Maada Bio.

During the time of the story, Sierra Leone was ravaged by war and violence. This all started with the decolonization of Sierra Leone by the British, and Sir Milton Margai was appointed the prime minister. After he died, his half brother Sir Albert Margai succeeded him. However, when the All People’s Congress gained more parliamentary seats, a new prime minister named Siaka Stevens was placed in power, followed by a number of military coups. As the government turned to corruption, a republic was created and only the All People’s Congress party was allowed to exist. This caused even more protests, allowing the Revolutionary United Front to emerge and take hold of many cities around the country, killing and hurting many innocent citizens and forcing many boys to become child soldiers.

About the Author: Ishmael Beah

Backstory: Ishmael Beah was recruited into Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s. After years of participating in extremely violent atrocities, he was taken under the wings of UNICEF. UNICEF, also known as the United Nations Children’s Fund, is a program that provides assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. After the War: Ishmael Beah went through rehabilitation and was then sent to live with his uncle. Next, he traveled to Conakry, which is the capital of Guinea, after the war reached Freetown. With the help of UNICEF, he made it back to New York City and stayed with Laura Simms, his foster mother. Education: Beah finished high school in New York City and went to Oberlin College in Ohio. He took a fiction writing class and turned his memories of violence into short stories. Life Now: Ishmael Beah is married to Priscillia Kounkou and has a daughter. He has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on foreign relations, the center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO) at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, and many other panels. He is also the head of the Ishmael Beah Foundation.. Beah focuses mainly on helping children get back to their normal childhood after being exposed to war.


Culture of Sierra Leone Name: The name Sierra Leone was created by a Portuguese explorer and literally means “Lion Mountains” because of the tall mountain in Freetown. Language: The most popular language spoken is Krio, which unites all the different ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. Housing: Most of the houses are round or rectangular, and they offer a veranda. A veranda is a porch or open air gallery. Food: The main food staple is rice, which is eaten at almost every meal. Other foods include potatoes, seafood, fruits, and assortment of meats. Chicken bones are considered a delicacy. Celebrations and Holidays: Weddings, funerals, and other celebrations include large platters of rice. Kola nuts are also offered as a gift. They celebrate New Years Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and National Day.


Religion: Sierra Leone’s population is 60% Muslim, 10% Christian, and 30% indigenous believers Arts: The people of Sierra Leone believe in storytelling and tradition. Dancing and graphic arts, such as basket making and batik printing, are popular in Sierra Leone.

In-Depth Theme: Forgiveness Ishmael Beah not only had to forgive others, but had to forgive himself. After murdering hundreds of people, the road to forgiveness was long and difficult. It was hard for him to accept what he had done, much less forgive himself for it. However, he had to find a way to make peace with himself, as he will never be able to take back the atrocious crimes he committed. Therefore, with the loving and patient help of Esther and those at the rehabilitation center and the support of Laura and others he met in New York, Ishmael was able to understand that what happened during the war was not his fault, but rather the fault of the uncontrollable odds that brought him down the path of war.

“...children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance.� -Ishmael Beah


In-Depth Theme: Identity Throughout the book, Ishmael’s identity was constantly evolving. He started off the story as an innocent, rap-loving boy with a complicated, yet loving family. However, as the book progressed and Ishmael’s life became more violent, his identity changed in reflection to his life. Ishmael began to experience war in ways that forced him to grow up. He didn’t have the time for his former interests, he only had time to survive. He became mature, sad, and angry. Then, in becoming a soldier, Ishmael’s identity was not just redefined, but destroyed: he came to see himself as nothing without his gun, nothing without a means to kill. After losing himself in such a horrible way, it took years for Ishmael to realize who he really was.


“One of the unsettling things about my journey, mentally, physically, and emotionally, was that I wasn’t sure when or where it was going to end. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I felt that I was starting over and over again.” -Ishmael Beah

In-Depth Theme: Humanity “I know the nature of what it is to be forgotten, what it is to lose your humanity, and more importantly, what it is to recover from it and to have another life.” – Ishmael Beah Humanity was a prominent theme throughout Ishmael's’ story, as humanity is often lost in the face of war. Ishmael was not only trained to look upon others as inhumane, but was deprived of his own humanity. As a mere child that had just lost everything, Ishmael was extremely vulnerable. Instead of helping him make sense of the overwhelming terror around him, the Sierra Leonean army took advantage of the despair and anger Ishmael was feeling. He was convinced that his humanity made him weak and was commended for performing inhumane acts. They brainwashed him, strung him out on drugs, and stripped him of his humanity until the only thing he knew was murder.


Works Cited “Advocate for Children Affected by War.” UNICEF, 25 May 2012, Aisha. “Ishmael and Laura Simms.” My Hero, Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

“Children in the War.” A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, “ Children Playing in a Village in Sierra Leone.” Ben's Blog, 6 Mar. 2014,

“Ishmael Beah Holding Sign.” Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary

“Ishmael Playing with Children.” UNICEF, “Ishmael Sitting in the Middle.” Ishmael Beah, -General for Children and Armed Conflict, United Nations, “Ishmael Beah with Children.” UNICEF USA, UNICEF, 19 Dec. 2016, 513.


Minzesheimer, Bob. “Ishmael Beah, from Boy Solider to Novelist.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 21 Jan. 2014, -beah/4360475/.

Works Cited (continued) “Sierra Leone.” Countries and Their Cultures Forum, “Sierra Leone Child Soldier.” It Dawned On Me , WordPress, 7 May 2009, oldier/.

“Sierra Leonean Art.” Visions from the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone, The Smithsonian Institution, one-5129. “Sierra Leonean Dancers.” Exhibition: Reanimating Cultural Heritage in Sierra Leone, London's Global University, age-exhibition. “Sierra Leonean Food.” Kinghat Sierra Leone Cassava Leaf Stew With Chicken, Kinghat Food,


A Long Way Gone - Slinkard, Clayton, Drummond  
A Long Way Gone - Slinkard, Clayton, Drummond