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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2008
Ismael Beah's story of being caught up in the civil war of Sierra Leone, of witnessing and then taking part in atrocities, is simply written, but no less powerful for that. He writes as a child of 12, although it is clear from his afterword that he has chosen this style to give greater impact, and that as a wrtier he is capable of a much more sophisticated analysis.

This approach works and definitely makes the book accessible to teenagers, particularly teenage boys.

He has a great ear for the nuances of childhood, you can immediately connect to both his feelings of excitement, loneliness and fear in the earlier parts of the book.

His book describes all the initiations of a child soldier - the drug addiction and violent initiation ceremonies, but skims somewhat over what happened between being forced to be a child soldier and his rehabilitation.

You are also left with a feeling that some of the process of rehabilitation has been left private. There is a difficult line between honesty and indulging the reader's voyeurism. this is not a book which indulges in violence for its own sake.

That said, Beah's description of what must have been an incredibly painful journey towards self-acceptance and rehabilitation is sometimes skimmed over. He was a child, with no real choices, but he also did some terrible things and deep down he must know that. There is none of the masterful, and intensely painful, self analysis of, say, Roman Frister, in his book "The Cap, or the Price of a Life". Perhaps Beah is still too young to write that book of his life, but I think he may have it in him.

So, an excoriating description of life in Sierra Leone, which leaves you to fill in some the gaps yourself. An important book, because it is an honest account of a devastating issue, and an extraordinary work, given Beah's youth and disrupted education. Recommended for adults and older teenagers.

However, Beah's great work on this subject is, I suspect, still ahead of him.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2008
This story is simply told. There are no fancy literary flourishes designed to manipulate the reader's emotions and no eloquent explanations designed to sway us to a particular viewpoint. It is the simple story of a child unwittingly caught up in the appalling violence of civil war. The narrator tells his own story. It is the story of how civil war destroys the normality of life in his village, of how he runs from the advancing violence, but eventually cannot avoid being drafted into its very heart as a child soldier. He describes the process of desensitization that allows him to survive the horrors he participates in and the even more difficult process of learning to re-engage with civil society once he has been rescued from the battlefield.

Some readers may be disappointed by the fact that the book provides only very limited historical background to the conflict in Sierra Leone and by the fact that the narrator engages in only very limited introspection about what he has experienced. The plot also contains a few scenes that come across as a bit contrived and unlikely, but none of this detracts from the picture that is painted of the horrors of child soldiers involved in civil war. The power of the story lies in its simplicity and in the fact that we know it is being told by someone who lived through it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2009
This book describes the experiences of the author as a child in civil war-torn Sierra Leone. Beah first relates his agonising separation from family, the aimless wandering from place-to-place, and subsequently the violent events after joining the national army as a child soldier. He kills countless people and witnesses horrors all too consistent with the reports of others. However, I felt uneasy about the book. Some aspects just didn't ring true.
It was at this point that I learned of the unresolved controversy about the accuracy of the events described by the author. Personally what troubled me however was not the issue of historical accuracy. Rather it was the complete absence of remorse. Beah slits the throats of prisoners in cold blood as he looks into their eyes, shoots at them to hurry them to dig their own graves, helps bury them alive and so forth. Despite these acts against the defenceless I found little or no self-questioning, and precious little regret, only an acceptance of the view that "it was not your fault". In the end the book therefore came across as self-orientated and even self-serving. Of course much can be understood in terms of the need to survive at the time and, after such trauma, denial is an understandable self-protection. Nevertheless, I expected more from someone with time to reflect and who is now head of his own USA-based foundation to help former child soldiers. From this book you will learn something of the events of that period, be they Beah's experiences or others I am not sure it matters, but you won't learn so much about the human response to such horror and the struggle to live with having performed such acts. Perhaps a child is protected from such agonies or maybe they only emerge with more time.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2008
The subtitle to this is `Memoirs of a Boy Soldier' and Ishmael Beah paints a stunning and horrifying picture of what human beings are capable of doing. The acts that he's party to, the acts that he perpetrates, are horrendous in their violence and their cruelty, and yet Ishmael's background story - how he loses his family and everything he has known and is manipulated and coerced into his actions - gives these acts a dramatic context.
Reading this true story will stir strong emotions and, in the case of this reviewer at least, put things into perspective; for those thinking life is tough with credit crunches and expensive petrol prices, think again...
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2007
A truly engrossing account of a young boy, caught up in the wars in Sierra Leone and led into the hard, vengeful and drug-induced world of a child soldier. Despite all the killing and acts of inhumanity he describes carrying out and the pleasure he felt doing them, I never once blamed him or felt anger towards him, just sorrow and pity. My anger was reserved at those who taught and led him into inhumanity: the leaders of Sierra Leone, its Army and the various rebel factions... and the rest of the world for letting such atrocities happen (and still happen today).

There is a positive ending. He goes through the slow process of rehabilitation, where the kindness, patience and understanding of medical and United Nations staff enable him to recover some of his childhood and re-enter humanity, and to a new life with new family. However, he is just one child; many don't survive, whilst others are still child fighters.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
I like to say that "A Long Way Gone" is quite a depressing story but very inspiring. Ishmael Beah tells the story of becoming a boy soldier in Sierra Leone and of his later rehabilitation. This was a heartbreaking story and very difficult to read from an emotional standpoint. I read the book over a short period of time as it is so gripping that I did not want to put it down, but at the same time it brought an overwhelming sense of sorrow. The horror that Beah so well describes, was unbelievably moving.

The book is well written and flows rather nicely. However, the story itself is so incredible that, even if it were poorly constructed, it would have been worth reading. Saying that it was "worth reading" is not really adequate. All people should read it in order to remind us what the reality of life is outside of Western culture. It is partly because we block incidents like those described by Beah that they can continue to happen.

I would not presume to know how to stop the carnage that occurs in so many Third World countries, but I can not help but think that if we as a society, were more aware of them and had to face the emotions and gut wrenching sorrow that come with the knowledge of such atrocities, we would be far less willing to allow them to happen.

Ishmael Beah has demonstrated that he is a remarkable individual with great reserves. He shows what changes can come about when people are caring and thoughtful of others. I would venture to say that Ishmael Beah feels guilt for what he has done. However, I think he should be proud of the fact that he has endured and triumph over so much evil and pain in becoming who he is today. It was an honor to be allowed to read Beah's story, as it must have been as equally difficult to recount it, as it was to live through it. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2007
Upon my recent read of the book'A Long Way Gone', I became immediately aware of the sheer scale of the issues affecting the people of Sierra Leone at the time. Ishmael Beah has a fantastic method of portraying the situation whilst adding emotion, tension and a vast variety of issues that affected child soldiers and also the general public in Sierra Leone at the time.

A must read for absolutely everyone. A refreshing call for people to open their eyes to the issues affecting the world we live in.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2007
I bought this book out of inquisitiveness! I knew nothing of Ishamel Beah or his story before reading. As I was reading it on a plane another passenger recognised his face from the back cover. She'd heard him speak at international conferences etc and raved about the amazing story of this young boy's rehabilitation from being a boy soldier.

I was gripped by the story only putting it down when I had to go into business meetings over the next 2/3 days. This story is a real balance between on one side the horrors of the unrest/war in Sierra Leone and on the other the love, commitment and unwavering support that Beah received during his rehab, in particular when he did not want to be rehabilitated! The book spells out exactly how easy it was for Beah to fall into fighting as a soldier and how hard it was for him to return to any sort of normal life. Read it or lose out!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2011
.`A Long Way Gone' has touched me so much that, for the first time in a long time, I don't want to immediately dive into my next book. Ishmael Beah is a remarkable young man who has survived more trauma than could ever be imagined. This book is, at times, a traumatic read but Mr Beah keeps us going as, in between the horror, are sweet insights into the person he was born to be. The horror is also counter-balanced by his writing style: his descriptions of the night sky alone are sheer poetry.

Given Mr Beah's strength of character, it is no surprise that he attracts some remarkable people who travel his journey with him - often only for a short time, but each leaves their footprint on his soul. Perhaps the first of these is his grandmother: his memories of her help him maintain a connection to the life he lived before becoming a boy-soldier. Moving on, he meets Esther, the nurse whose compassion and patience slowly eases him away from the horror - and then his uncle, who gives him the family he lost and helps him begin again. And finally to Laura, who is so moved by the young man she meets briefly in New York that she later becomes his mother.

The only disappointment is that the book ends a little abruptly. Reaching his final journey to safety, there are still several pages to go and I looked forward to reading about his new life in America. Sadly, the final pages are a chronology, which might have been more useful at the front of the book, rather than the back. I sincerely hope that Mr Beah writes the second instalment of his life, as I am sure it will be as gripping, moving, and beautifully written as `A Long Way Gone'.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2007
This is the story of one boy's devastating childhood, being forced to enlist as a child soldier during Sierra Leone's Civil War in the 90s.

This is also the most amazing, remarkable book I have read this year.

Ishmael Beah is a wonderful writer and storyteller. A Long Way Gone should be compulsory reading for politicians, teachers, teenagers, parents, social workers, artists, cynics, book groups, coaches, journalists, prisoners: basically anyone and everyone. I'm recommending it to everyone I know.
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