Book Review: A Long Way Gone


I was up long past my bedtime last night because I simply couldn’t put this book down.  It made me lose hope in humanity. It made me cry. It made me value how easy I have had it.  It made me gain home in humanity. It made me cherish the resilience of children. But most of all, it allowed me to feel.

My favorite part of this book is that you live the experience with him.  Until the end, there is no huge focus on hindsight.  He rationalizes what is happening around him in the way they he understood it at the time.  This allows a person, with some amount of empathy, to understand why a child breaks so quickly, the relief given by drugs, how killing is justified, and how equally frustrating the rehabilitation process is.

Throughout the book I was poignantly aware the Ismael Beah is my age.  He is 28 right now. When I was an exchange student in high school, leaving home for the first time, he was beginning his rehabilitation process.  He had already been a soldier for three years.  He had already lost his family, his old life, his village and everything he knew.

The UNHCR (UN agency that works with refugees) defines the term:

The term “child soldier” has become widely adopted, and will, therefore, be used to cover any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity other than purely as a family member. It does not, therefore, only refer to those carrying arms, but includes cooks, porters, messengers, and those accompanying such groups, including girls recruited as concubines or for forced marriage.

According to Amnesty international:

Approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world, and hundreds of thousands more are members of armed forces who could be sent into combat at any time. Although most child soldiers are between 15 and 18 years old, significant recruitment starts at the age of 10 and the use of even younger children has been recorded.

The US State Department further affirms that

Child soldiers are a global phenomenon. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, but armed groups in the Americas, Eurasia, and the Middle East also use children.

Educate yourself.  This is a real problem that continues today. I wish that when I worked with the International Institute of St. Louis I had known more about the topic. I wish it had been covered in my refugees and immigrants course in more detail.



  1. I read this book a couple years ago and also blazed through it. It’s a pretty easy read technically, but it’s hard to really process everything that Ismael went through because it’s all obviously so incredibly far removed from anything I’ve ever experienced.

  2. Oh by the way, not having read the book, I don’t have an opinion on which side of the issue is most accurate. This general topic came up in a discussion I had with an author and a journalist.

  3. Hi Resident Expat, I actually have heard interviews on both sides of the issue. I guess, for me, they are basically saying that one boy couldn’t have lived so much. Yet, after working with human trafficking and how it interrelates with child soldiers I would say that I believe on can. Also, even if he didn’t, he told the story that other boys lived as well. Also, some of the origional stuff that came out to discredit him has been disproved (like that his father is alive).

    Thanks for sharing the links though. I think it is really good to question what you read. I don’t take his story for 100%; it is a novel and it is his interpretation of what he has gone through and lived. Still, that doesn’t take away how moved I was by it or my call for people to educate themselves more about Child Soldiers– it surely has happened in Latin America too (that being a place dear to heart for all so far involved in this conversation).

  4. We had a wonderful organisation I met them last year when they were in town to speak of their work, which is both heartbreaking and uplifting. Heartbreaking for obvious reasons and uplifting because there are wonderful stories of hope and recovery. Not enough, or not as much as we would all like, but better than none. They went to an international private school and the teenagers there were deeply affected by the discrepancy between their own comfortable and safe life, and the terror that these child soldiers were going through.

    They were also outraged to find out that the U.S. continues to supply military equipment to countries who still use children. Most of the time, the inexperienced children or any children are sent in the first wave of any attack t draw fire. Basically, they are sent out to be slaughtered.

    I’m far more aware of what’s happening in Africa than I am of child soldiers in Latin America, so thank you for reminding me that it is an issue there too.

  5. Bugger….I meant to type we had an interesting visit from a wonderful organisation….the organisation still exists despite my use of the past tense…

    I did enjoy your review Clare…inspired me to read the book…:-)

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