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A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
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message 1: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 4 stars

message 2: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12904 comments About the Book (from the publisher)

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

Beah tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

About the Author

Ishmael Beah, born in 1980 in Sierra Leone, West Africa. He is a UNICEF Ambassador and Advocate for Children Affected by War; a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Advisory Committee; an advisory board member at the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; visiting scholar at the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University; visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Genocide, Conflict Resolution, and Human Rights at Rutgers University; cofounder of the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW); and president of the Ishmael Beah Foundation. He has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and many panels on the effects of war on children. He is a graduate of Oberlin College with a B.A. in Political Science and resides in Brooklyn, New York.

message 3: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (last edited Sep 15, 2019 07:47AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12904 comments Discussion Questions (Discussion questions issued by the publisher for LitLovers.)

1. How familiar were you with the civil wars of Sierra Leone prior to reading A Long Way Gone? How has Ishmael’s story changed your perception of this history, and of current wars in general?

2. Chapter seven begins with the story of the imam’s death, followed by Ishmael’s recollections of his father and an elder blessing their home when they first moved to Mogbwemo. How do the concepts of faith and hope shift throughout this memoir? What sustains Ishmael emotionally and spiritually?

3. Chapter eight closes with the image of villagers running fearfully from Ishmael and his friends, believing that the seven boys are rebels. How do they overcome these negative assumptions in communities that have begun to associate the boys’ appearance with evil? What lessons could world leaders learn from them about overcoming distrust, and the importance of judging others individually rather than as stereotypes?

4. What did Ishmael’s parents teach him about being a man? How did he define manhood once he began his long walk west? What general life lessons were his parents able to teach him that sustained him during his brutal passage from boyhood, and that he carries with him to this day?

5. Discuss the role of American hip-hop culture in creating a “soundtrack” for Ishmael’s life. Why are rappers so appealing to him?

6. The boys’ discovery of the Atlantic Ocean and their encounter with a cheerful fisherman who heals and feeds them is followed by the tragedy of Saidu’s death after a bird falls ominously from the sky. Discuss Ishmael’s relationship with the natural world. In what way is he guided by the constancy of the earth and sky?

7. When Ishmael arrives at the fortified village of Yele in chapter twelve, what do you discover about the way he began his military career? Was his service, and that of his equally young friends, necessary? What made his conscription different from that of drafted American soldiers serving in previous wars?

8. Ishmael tells us that some of the boys who had been rehabilitated with him later became soldiers again. What factors ensured that he could remain a civilian?

9. Storytelling is a powerful force in Ishmael’s life, even providing a connection to his future mother, Laura Simms. What traits make Ishmael a memorable and unique storyteller? How does his perspective compare to the perspectives of filmmakers, reporters, or other authors who have recently tried to portray Africa’s civil wars?

10. Ishmael describes his use of Krio and many tribal languages to communicate, as well as his ability to quote Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English. What communities and empires are represented in his many speech styles? In which “villages,” from the relatively new UN to the centuries-old Mende and Temne settlements, does the greatest wisdom lie?

11. How does Ishmael’s concept of family change throughout the memoir, from his early life in Mattru Jong, to the uncle with whom he is reunited, to his American family with Laura?

12. It takes many weeks before Ishmael feels comfortable with the relief workers’ refrain that these events are not his fault. What destructive beliefs had he become addicted to? What states of deprivation and euphoria had his body become addicted to?

13. What universal truths does Ishmael teach us about surviving loss and hunger, and overcoming isolation?

14. Ishmael’s dramatic escape during the later waves of revolution concludes with the riddle of the monkey. Is his dream of obliterating the monkey—and its violent endgames—closer to being fulfilled in these early years of the twenty-first century? What would it take for all of humanity to adopt Ishmael’s rejection of vengeance?

15. Ishmael gives credit to relief workers such as Esther, in conjunction with organizations such as UNICEF, for rescuing him. He has dedicated his life to their cause, studying political science and speaking before a broad variety of groups, ranging from the Council on Foreign Relations to the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. What steps has he inspired you to take to help end the use of child soldiers? How can each of us join Ishmael’s cause?

16. After reading the chronology of Sierra Leone’s history, what reasons can you propose for the coups in Ishmael’s homeland? Did the arrival of Portuguese slave traders, or the later colonization by the British, contribute to Sierra Leone’s twentieth-century woes? What did you discover about the motivations of the army soldiers versus those of the rebels? In your opinion, what made the leaders of the RUF so ruthless for so long?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

message 4: by Kristin (last edited Sep 21, 2019 09:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kristin | 25 comments "Our innocence had been replaced by fear and we had become monsters. (55)"

Surrounded constantly by death and the threat of death, Ishmael finds comfort in thinking of the stories his family told him and looking at the moon. He and the other boys grab onto any opportunity to have moments of innocent fun (playing in ocean, kicking a "soccer ball" made from a rolled up shirt wrapped in twine). When confronted by villagers, Ishmael is saved by his rap cassettes (as every village seems to have a cassette player on hand) and his dance moves.

It seems symbolic when Ishmael joins the army (after being told he will be shot by rebels if he doesn't) that his cassettes are burned. They are the last link to his childhood. He will be without his music for two years, until he is taken away by UNICEF for rehabilitation. I think the music served as a faster way for him to reconnect with the part of him that was lost.

Through the efforts of the rehabilitation, Ishmael regains his sanity (although he will have nightmares for, seemingly, the rest of his life). Later, the main thing that keeps him from sliding back is the fierce love of his uncle and family; unlike some of the other child soldiers, whom have no family to return to or have been rejected by their families. Ishmael is basically a stranger with a violent past, but his Aunt and Uncle's unconditional love brings Ishmael firmly into his new life.

The next time the war comes to his doorstep, Ishmael feels sorry for the towns people, who haven't experiences this before, but doesn't hesitate to make his escape. I think the only part of this book that I didn't like was that Ishmael only tells his one friend that he is leaving and basically ditches his widowed aunt and cousins to fend for themselves.

Ishmael ends the memoir with a story about a hunter and a monkey. Although it is considered an unanswerable riddle, Ishmael knows his answer: kill the monkey and mother (which may represent political strife and ancestral bonds) and spare future hunters (children) from being victims of the menace. It's not in the story, but the author's bio shares that Ishmael went on to become an advocate for children of war and started his own foundation to help former child soldiers like himself. So maybe, in a way, he did kill the monkey: he ditched his aunt and cousins in Sierra Leone and dedicated his future to helping the children.

I would recommend this book to people who may wonder how a child can become a killer; how a child's environment and attitude changes when they are not trusted/feared by their community; how stories, music, and a family's love can hold a person together in the worst times or even bring them back when everything is lost.

message 5: by Diane, Armchair Tour Guide (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane | 12904 comments Kristin wrote: ""Our innocence had been replaced by fear and we had become monsters. (55)"

Surrounded constantly by death and the threat of death, Ishmael finds comfort in thinking of the stories his family told ..."

Great review, Kristin.

〰️Beth〰️ (x1f4a0bethx1f4a0) | 18 comments Finally got my copy of this today!

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