86 pages 2 hours read

Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2007

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide


A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider is a memoir published in 2007 by the Sierra Leonean author and activist Ishmael Beah. The book recounts the author’s experiences as a 12-year-old boy in war-torn Sierra Leone. Forced to serve as a child soldier for three years in the 1990s during the Sierra Leone Civil War, Beah wrote the book to highlight the horrific impact of war on children. Nominated for a 2007 Quill Award for Best Debut Author, A Long Way Gone also appeared on Amazon’s list of 100 books to read in a lifetime.

This study guide refers to the 2008 edition published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.


The author presents the narrative from the perspective of a child who experiences unimaginable loss, witnesses and is coerced into participating in extreme violence, and who has no comprehension of the political events that precipitated Sierra Leone’s civil war. Following the peaceful years of his early childhood, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) kills Ishmael's family and coerces him to serve as a boy soldier in his native Sierra Leone from the age of 12 to 15. Civil war commenced in the country in 1991 when the RUF conducted a coup in an effort to overthrow Joseph Mohmoh’s government; the conflict lasted until 2002, resulting in fifty thousand deaths and the displacement of a million Sierra Leoneans. Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted of various war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, including murder, slavery, and the impressment of child soldiers.

Ishmael’s first person narrative, which alternates between descriptions of his current life and flashbacks to incidents related to the war, does not emphasize the political ramifications of the conflict. He relates his experiences of the loss of his family members, survival alone in the forest, starvation, and eventually being pressed into military service at the age of 12. His senior officers distribute amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana to the soldiers daily to sustain their ability to engage in brutal guerrilla warfare for lengthy time periods. The author becomes addicted to these substances and participates in violent acts of war against both the RUF and civilians, as ordered by his commanders. Ishmael writes about the war as he experienced it, which was from the hazy, terrified, perspective of a starving child coerced into capitulation.

During his third year of military service, he is chosen to be one of a group of boys brought to a rehabilitation facility in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he heals under the care of compassionate workers and that of a paternal uncle whom he meets for the first time. He is chosen to attend the first United Nations Children’s Conference where he speaks about his ordeals and meets the woman who eventually becomes his adoptive mother.

A Long Way Gone is written as an honest portrayal of events from the author’s perspective as a child. He neither exaggerates nor sugarcoats the realities of war, and he avoids rationalization of his actions or pandering for the pity of the reader. His intention is to provide a realistic view of the horrific consequences of war on children.