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Americans tend to regard African conflicts as somewhat vague events signified by horrendous concepts — massacres, genocide, mutilation — that are best kept safely at a distance.

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We get only a brief glimpse of the joyous, hip-hop-loving Beah before the madness starts. A dozen pages in, he is watching a woman cradle her bullet-riddled baby. Things only get worse. Walking hundreds of miles to flee rebels, Beah is eventually snagged by army forces who use child soldiers eager for revenge against those who have slaughtered their families. Beah has received numerous humanitarian and writing awards.

He appears in Bling: A Planet Rock , a documentary that draws attention to the diamond conflict. Skip to main navigation Skip to content. Ishmael Beah lives in New York City.

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All in all, his childhood was not unlike that of many other children across the world. In fact, any talk of war usually came from movies and books, or the occasional BBC report on the ongoing war in Liberia, a neighboring country. So when war did break out, it came as a surprise. One day in January , the author, his older brother Junior and a friend named Talloi traveled to the town of Mattru Jong, a mile journey from their hometown of Mogbwemo. The author and his brother decided to return home to search for their parents and siblings, but on the way their minds were quickly changed.

They saw hordes of people fleeing Mogbwemo, many wounded, every person carrying what they could with them.

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And when they saw the first dead body, it became clear to the boys that their family must have also fled Mogbwemo. Frightened, they turned back toward safety and the village of Mattru Jong. While people all over Sierra Leone suffered, children were hit the hardest by the chaos and violence of the civil war.

Since the war began so suddenly, it was common for children to be separated from their families during attacks in towns and villages and left to fend for themselves. The author was involved in the simple, everyday task of cooking a meal when the war arrived at his front door. Many children had to roam from village to village in search of food, despite the danger of rebel bands.

The only chance the author had for survival was to join together with other lone boys like himself. During a surprise attack, the author was separated from his brother and was forced to flee to save his own life. After some time, he met six other boys with whom he began traveling, in search of food and safety.

But the author would soon learn that banding together with a group of boys would not keep him safe from the ravages of war.


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While the horrors of war were especially difficult for children, young boys had a particularly hard time of it. Not only did rebel groups target them, but also civilians saw them as a threat. For instance, people would talk about how rebels forced boys to fight — even to kill their own families and friends.

Once the boys were branded in this fashion, they were at the mercy of the rebel group. Sierra Leone soldiers and civilians alike would kill anyone bearing the RUF brand without question. Civilians, after hearing stories about boy soldiers, viewed any young man suspiciously.

A Long Way Gone Summary

The boys found themselves in a village they thought abandoned. All of a sudden, a group of villagers surrounded the boys and attacked them, taking their shoes and chasing them over hot sand.

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The author was just 12 years old at the time; others were even younger. While villagers were suspicious of and sometimes violent toward boys, this paled in comparison to the cruelty of the Sierra Leone national army. Read on to take a few steps in the shoes of a child soldier.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

You can just imagine the terrible things that rebels forced child soldiers to do. Yet even the national army fighting the rebels engaged in cruel tactics. In fact, if the army demanded it of them, young boys had no choice but to fight. After some time on the road, the author and his friends were captured by the army, which took them to a military base in Yele.