A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

“infobox Book “
name A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
image caption 2007 Hardcover Edition
author Ishmael Beah
country United States
language English language
genre(s) Memoir
publisher Sarah Crichton Books
release date 2007
media type Hardcover
pages 229

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is a poignant memoir by Ishmael Beah about his time as a child soldier in Sierre Leone, and how he was eventually rehabilitated.

Character Summaries


The protagonist of the story. A child soldier who eventually is rehabilitated and tells his story in New York.

Uncle Tommy

Ishmael’s uncle who he doesn’t meet until near the end of the book. He looks after Ishmael and gives him some semblance of a normal life, but sadly dies.


Ishmael’s brother, who he is separated from.

The Lieutenant

He keeps telling Ishmael to fight, and that they are fighting for the right cause. Ishmael has quite a close relationship with him.


A kind nurse responsible for helping Ishmael rehabilitate.

Laura Simms

A storyteller who Ishmael meets in New York when he goes there for the UN delegation. She eventually becomes a foster mother to him.


Ishmael’s closest friend.


Ishmael’s case worker.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One

The story focusses on Ishmael. He and a group of other boys are incredibly interested in rap, to the point where they even have their own rap group. One day in 1993, Ishmael and the boys take the opportunity to participate in a friend’s talent show. They see friends along the way.

They stay with their friend Khalilou, but find out that their home village, Mogbwemo, has been attacked and that the rebels are coming to the town they’re in right now. There is chaos as people flee Ishmael’s village, but he is unable to find out anything about his own family.

Ishmael and the other boys go back to their home village, but are unable to complete the journey because of the danger along the way.

Chapter Two

Ishmael has a horrible nightmare, then the story shifts to the present day, where Ishmael lives in New York City. Ishmael then has another flashback to Sierra Leone, where he was a soldier and had to open fire on villagers to take their possessions. The worst part is that Ishmael and the other soldiers are not horrified by what they have done at the time.

Ishmael’s thoughts return to the present day. He is horrified about this past now.

Chapter Three

Ishmael and his friends remain in the town of Mattru Jong because they can’t go back to their homes. They don’t know if there are any survivors. They find out from a messenger that the rebels will be coming to this town, but they never do, and life continues on.

Chapter Four

Eventually Ishmael and his friends return home, but the journey is not an easy one. Ishmael and his friends are nearly killed by rebels, but manage to outwit them. They have to steal food to survive as even though they have money, nobody will sell them anything as they are hoarding their own provisions (or, the provisions have run out).

Chapter Five

By this point the boys are nearly starving, to the point where the chase down a child who has some corn. They receive more corn from the boy’s mother, and Ishmael says they don’t regret their actions because they had to do whatever was necessary to survive.

Then, the boys return to Mattru Jong despite the danger, as they desperately need food. Unfortunately, the rebels catch them and they are forced to join a large group of refugees, and witness shocking cruelty.

Ishmael and Junior are separated, and told by the rebels they will have to fight and kill each other. Thankfully, the boys are able to escape before this happens. They continue their journey in silence.

Chapter Six

The boys are forced to keep a low profile to avoid raising the ire of local villagers. They are again captured, but this time by a group of volunteer guards for a village. The boys are forced to face the council of this village, and are nearly drowned by the chief, who thinks they are suspicious. Thankfully, a young boy recognises them, and they are saved. The chief then offers them shelter, but the boys leave because they know the village is likely to be attacked.

Continuing their travels, they end up in a job planting fields. However, rebels attack the village and the boys are separated. Junior and Ishmael are sadly separated.

Chapter Seven

The village that Ishmael and the other boys are hiding in is attacked by rebels at night. Most of the villagers are killed or run away. Ishmael escapes but can’t find his friends or brother. He eventually finds Kalako, and the two of them return to the burned village. They them hide for a fortnight with a family, but Ishmael eventually decides to continue alone, walking through the ruins of all the other villages.

Chapter Eight

Ishmael continues his journey, alone and having to struggle to survive. He finds some peace in nature, but starts to become too scared to sleep, lest he remember what has happened to him.

Ishmael does encounter a group of other boys, some of whom he recognises, and despite feeling awkward around people after such a long time alone, joins up with the boys. At first the people in the villages that they meet are scared of the boys, worried that they might be out to do no good. However the villagers become sympathetic when they realize the boys don’t pose a threat, they are simply trying to survive.

Chapter Nine

Ishmael and his group find a village by the ocean. They think the village will be safe because the conflict won’t have gone that far, yet the village is abandoned. Those remaining in the village attack the boys, stealing their shoes. This means that Ishmael and the other boys are forced to continue their journey barefoot. Their feet all become horrifically injured, but thankfully Ishmael and the boys find a man living in a hut who helps them.

The man doesn’t tell them his name. Ishmael and the other boys are unfortunately attacked by the villagers again, but when the Chief of the village hears the rap music on the cassettes that Ishmael has, he stops the attack, realising that Ishmael and the other boys are only young.

Chapter Ten

Ishmael’s ordeal continues. He longs for his family, and he is devastated by the constant trauma he has to endure. He and the boys continue traveling from village to village, trying to find enough food to survive. They also each share their personal stories of how their villages were destroyed be rebels.

One of the boys, Saidu, eventually becomes so ill that he dies. Ishmael also finds out news of his brother, Junior.

Chapter Eleven

Ishmael’s journey takes him to another village, this one allegedly where some of their family members are alive and residing in. Ishmael and the other boys meet a banana farmer named Gasemu, and help him. However, the village is attacked and burned down by rebels.

Ishmael is taken to the hut where his family were, but can’t find anyone. He attacks Gasemu, and then all of the boys begin to fight, which triggers the attention of the rebels. Gasemu is killed as they try to escape.

Chapter Twelve

The boys are eventually captured yet again, and have to work in a military-occupied village called Yele. This time Ishmael does not mind the work, as this village is relatively safe. Ishmael continues to suffer headaches and terrifying flashbacks, however.

Unfortunately, rebels attack Yele. The military tells all the boys that they have to either fight or leave, and so Ishmael and his friends have no choice but to fight. Ishmael and his friends are trained to fight by the soldiers. When Ishmael’s old clothes are burned, so too are his tapes of rap music. They are told to fight to avenge those killed by the rebels.

Chapter Thirteen

In his first fight, Ishmael makes his first kill. He feels nothing. He and the other soldiers are given a white tablet to give them energy. Ishmael’s nightmares worsen, to the point where after he experiences one he begins shooting, and has to be woken by the corporal and the lieutenant. They give Ishmael more drugs, and Ishmael continues to fight.

Chapter Fourteen

Ishmael continues fighting, and becomes more and more dependent on drugs. He and other soldiers attack civilians to recruit new soldiers, and they raid rebel camps for supplies. This violence is condoned by the army, as they are allegedly fighting for their country, unlike the rebels, who fight against it.

Ishmael and some other soldiers are one day chosen for a throat-slitting contest. The violence is enjoyable to the soldiers. Ishmael proves to be the best at slitting throats, and is awarded the rank of junior lieutenant.

Chapter Fifteen

Ishmael becomes more and more detached and desensitized from the real world. He continues to fight with the military, with the days all blending into one unending conflict.

One day, in 1996, UNICEF arrive and release the child soldiers from their duties. They will be educated and no longer have to fight. Ishmael and some of the other youngest boys go to Freetown, and are given food and beds, but they are unsure why they no longer have to fight. They fight the other groups of child soldiers who are there with them, but the fight stops when the boys realize they are all the same.

Boy soldiers from the RUF come, causing more conflict. Mambu even takes a gun and starts killing people. The fight is eventually broken up, but not before six boys are dead. After this, Ishmael and some other boys go to the rehabilitation centre known as the Benin Home. Here, Ishmael goes through a terrible drug withdrawal. He and the other boys still can’t fully understand what’s going on.

Chapter Sixteen

Ishmael and the other boys are not used to a normal life, so they do not behave like normal at the rehabilitation centre. Eventually, Ishmael and the other boys are slowly able to be rehabilitated. Ishmael remembers proudly how his nickname as a soldier used to be “Green Snake”.

Ishmael finds he slowly starts to understand the extent of his trauma. He also finds he has difficulty with school, but slowly starts to learn more and more.

Chapter Seventeen

A nurse named Esther helps Ishmael have some important breakthroughs. She uses music as a way to encourage Ishmael to come to therapy, and also helps Ishmael write down lyrics. Ishmael begins to trust her, but still has a lot of trauma that he finds it hard to work through. The trauma manifests itself as migraines and headaches, and makes it hard for him to remember anything.

Chapter Eighteen

Rehabilitation continues to have positive effects on Ishmael, to the point where he and some of the other boys put on a talent show for some people from organizations like UNICEF. Ishmael even becomes a spokesperson for the rehabilitation centre, and his attitudes towards rehabilitation are very positive.

Ishmael meets his Uncle Tommy, who is a stranger to him. At first Uncle Tommy visits Ishmael on the weekends, so their relationship can build. Ishmael comes to trust Tommy, who eventually takes Ishmael to meet his family.

Chapter Nineteen

At first it is hard for Ishmael to adjust to a normal home live with Uncle Tommy and his family. He prefers to be alone and silent. He dates a few girls, but finds it hard to open up to them about his past.

Leslie (Ishmael’s case worker and the one who found and introduced him to Uncle Tommy), helps Ishmael apply to visit New York as part of a UN delegation. Ishmael wins a place.

Chapter Twenty

Ishmael and the other children who are part of the UN delegation tell their stories. Ishmael finds he makes a particular connection with Laura Simms. He is amazed by the size and scope of New York, and how different it is in real life to what he thought it would be like.

Chapter Twenty-One

Ishmael returns to Sierra Leone and to school, but the other students are wary of him because they know his past. Ishmael and Mohamed are ostracized, but they begin to refer to each other as brothers.

In 1997, Ishmael is horrified to hear gunfire, thinking the violence would be too much to live through again. The civilian government in Freetown is overthrown by a coup between the RUG and the military. They leave destruction in their wake. Ishmael and Mohamed barely escape. Uncle Tommy becomes ill and dies. Ishmael, not wanting to have to become a solider again, contacts Laura. She agrees that he can come and live in New York with her, so Ishmael illegally escapes Sierra Leone for Guinea, where he receives shelter in the embassy as a refugee of war.