Beah, Ishmael 1980–
Beah, Ishmael 1980–
Home—New York, NY.
Author. Member, Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division Advisory Committee. Military service: Served in the Sierra Leone Army, 1994-96.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier tells about war from the point of view of a young boy trained to kill without remorse. Beah's first dozen years or so in Sierra Leone were happy ones, but when civil war broke out, his village was raided by both sides of the conflict. He and his brother lost their family, and the siblings soon were separated from each other as well. Struggling to survive, Beah ran into the Sierra Leone Army, which gave him shelter. However, their motives were not selfless, and they offered the boy the choice of either joining the army or being abandoned. Terrified, Beah became a soldier and was trained to use a weapon. The army gave their young soldiers drugs and made them watch violent movies, all the while telling them that the rebels were responsible for killing their loved ones. This kind of indoctrination was effective, and Beah was turned into a murdering machine. Beah describes the two years he was in the army frankly, relating how he killed many people himself.
In 1996, Beah had the good fortune of being rescued by the United Nations and sent to a camp where he was rehabilitated. While there were problems with this process—government and rebel soldiers were thrown together and treated the same, as if they had not been bitter enemies—U.N. counselors did help Beah. He was adopted by an uncle. When his uncle, too, died, he was adopted by another woman, who helped him immigrate to the United States. Once there, Beah attended and graduated from Oberlin College. Beah remains astounded and chagrined over how he had been turned into a barbaric soldier. "The thing that causes me to wince most is when I remember all the really bad stuff we did that I laughed at," he is quoted as saying in a Time article by Belinda Luscombe. "You wonder how anyone with a soul could do that."
While some critics of A Long Way Gone pointed out narrative flaws in Beah's writing style, many reviewers were impressed by the work. If Beah's descriptions of the atrocities he personally committed "are to be given credence, his personal body count must total many dozens," remarked William Boyd in the New York Times Book Review. "Such knowledge is shocking, but it's the reader's imagination that delivers the cold sanguinary shudder, not the author's boilerplate prose. It is a vision of hell that Beah gives us, one worthy of Hieronymus Bosch, but as though depicted in primary colors by a naive artist." Nevertheless, Boyd asserted that "Beah's memoir joins an elite class of writing: Africans witnessing African wars." In a Miami Herald review, Connie Ogle attested that "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." "Told in a conversational, accessible style, this powerful record of war ends as a beacon to all teens experiencing violence around them," Matthew L. Moffett further observed in the School Library Journal.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Beah, Ishmael, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2007.
Biography, spring, 2007, Lynne Jones, review of A Long Way Gone.
Black Issues Book Review, March 1, 2007, Angela P. Dodson, "Starbucks Offers a Jolt of Serious Reading," p. 6.
Booklist, November 15, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 19.
Books, February 11, 2007, Jeff Rice, "Memoir Paints Portrait of a Child as a Soldier," p. 4; June 23, 2007, Kristin Kloberdanz, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 7.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 2007, Elizabeth Bush, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 359.
Entertainment Weekly, February 16, 2007, Gilbert Cruz, "Tug of War," p. 82.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2007, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 58; March 1, 2007, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 3.
Library Journal, March 1, 2007, James Thorsen, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 91.
Miami Herald, March 7, 2007, Connie Ogle, "Ishmael Beah Leads a Harrowing Journey into the Heart of Sierra Leone's Bloody Civil War."
Nation, May 28, 2007, Fatin Abbas, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 34.
National Post, March 24, 2007, Stewart Bell, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 13.
New York Times, March 10, 2007, Julie Bosman, "Disturbing Memoir Outsells Literary Comfort Food at Starbucks," p. 7.
New York Times Book Review, February 25, 2007, William Boyd, "Babes in Arms," p. 12.
New York Times Magazine, January 14, 2007, Ishmael Beah, "The Making, and Unmaking, of a Child Soldier," p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, December 18, 2006, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 55.
School Library Journal, April, 2007, Matthew L. Moffett, review of A Long Way Gone, p. 171.
Spectator, June 9, 2007, Caroline Moorehead, "Lost and Found."
Time, February 12, 2007, Belinda Luscombe, "Pop Culture Finds Lost Boys," p. 62.
USA Today, January 11, 2007, Carol Memmott, "‘Gone’ to Starbucks," p. 01.
Gather.com,http://www.gather.com/ (March 20, 2007), Lucy B., review of A Long Way Gone.
Ishmael Beah Home Page,http://www.alongwaygone.com/ishmael_beah.html (September 25, 2007).