A Book Reflection of "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier"

The book "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldiers" by Ishmael Beah

The book "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldiers" by Ishmael Beah chronicles Beah's experiences before, during, and after his involvement in the civil conflict in Sierra Leone. The book is ideally a historical account of Beah's life beginning with the assault by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) that disrupted his once peaceful childhood and killed most of his family members, forcing him to enlist in the army to fight the insurgents. The book explicates grotesque images as the author's innocent childhood life vanishes and violently evolves into one of an indiscriminate killer. Having survived drugs, ruthless commanders and the adversities of war, Beah demonstrably gives a first-hand account of the war that leaves the reader emotionally entwined in the acts of war and its glaring reality on all those involved. That the author managed to live through those harrowing experiences to narrate the episodes in the first person is an undeniable explication of wartime violence.

Beah's narrative has several themes and motifs

Beah's narrative has several themes and motifs that not only drive the plot but also serve as turning points in the definition of his personal identity. The theme of arts and culture occurs at the beginning of the novel. Apparently, Beah, his older brother Junior, and their friends are influenced by rap music and performing arts. The writer says, "The four of us had started a dance group when I was eight..." (Chapter One). This construct shows that they were artists in the making and music curved their identities. The formative experiences of music are exhibited from their travels to Mobimbi to watch rap videos and the turning point occurs when they journey to Mattru Jong to participate in the rap competition. As a result, music defined their identities before the ugliness of war erupted.

The motif of loss caused by the war

Besides, war and violence dominate the entire novel, and out of this, a motif of loss caused by the war is evident. The story opens with a dedication to Beah's parents, grandparents, and the friends he lost in battle. In one of those moments, Beah recalls, "...the sight of women preparing dinner always reminded me of the times I used to watch my mother cook..." (Chapter Two). These memories are illuminations of the losses the narrator feels were brought by the war. To cope with these losses, Beah immerses himself in combat, killing indiscriminately just to forget the painful memories conferred by the death of his loved ones. He says, "...I angrily pointed my gun into the swamp and killed more people...shot everything that moved..." (Chapter 13). His actions are further motivated by the killing of his friends, his family, and an expression of disgust at the war. However, the greatest motivation comes from the political drumming by the soldiers who tell them "to revenge the deaths of your family...think of it as destroying a great evil..." These events morphed him into a child soldier, shaping his identity as an indiscriminate killer.

The theme of community

The theme of community is also found. Community affiliations are cultural identities in Sierra Leone. The earlier chapters of the book exhibit the structural and systemic power relations in the village where the chief is the highest authority. The author demonstrates how the village elders came second in command, and through the public organization, specialization, and the division of labor are evident. Beah and his friends encounter a lot of these institutions in their quest for a safer haven. Apparently, the social organizations existed to promote the social ideology of togetherness and kinship, which is a common element among many African tribal societies. Through these institutions, individuals develop a sense of personal and communal identities that enable them to traverse the expansive cultures of Sierra Leone. Unfortunately, the war sowed discord and mistrust to the extent Beah says, "...even a twelve-year-old couldn't be trusted anymore..." (Chapter Seven). In such moments, Beah uses the power of his rap cassette and musical performances to cope with the mistrust and escape possible lynching.

Living in America or any other first world country is advantageous

Living in America or any other first world country is advantageous. Apart from the peace and stability enshrined in such countries, there is also a matter of free will accorded by democratic liberalism. This means that I get to enjoy the socio-economic and political liberties that others elsewhere rarely find. Because of such aspects, I find it easy looking at the world occurrences from a Westernized perspective. For instance, I tend to view the wartime violence in Africa and the Middle East to be problems of the less developed countries, which they should personally handle in a way that we handled ours a few centuries ago. As a result, when I hear about war, I am inclined to perceive vague events that are characterized by horrendous concepts of the massacre, mutilation, and genocide, acts that cannot infiltrate the Western spheres. When juxtaposed with the author's life, I discover that my comfort could easily transform into absurdity once the prevailing peace and tranquility gets stretched by socio-political disruptions such as civil wars. Apparently, Beah was just experiencing a peaceful childhood life and pursuing artistic interests when the civil war broke out. Unlike me who prides in the liberty of an American life, the author had to abruptly change to absorb the effects of the disruptive war and experience an identity crisis in the shift from a normative childhood into that of a child soldier. Beah views his involvement in the civil war as a lack of a sound alternative to childhood combat. This is evident from the monkey narrative, where he intended to show the lived experience of a childhood soldier. As a result, while I usually see, hear, and experience war through the media, Beah experiences it firsthand and even lives to vividly narrate about. He is showcasing the world the effects of war from his encounters as a child soldier.

In response to the autobiography

In response to the autobiography, I learn that anyone, irrespective of age and background, can find themselves doing the most despicable things. Apparently, Beah, Junior, and others were upcoming artists when the war broke out and transformed them into killer machines, albeit in their childhood. This story demonstrates the ambiguities of identities when war knocks and sweeps everyone into committing unthinkable acts. I believe that through proactive and affirmative action, and petitioning the government, this matter can be addressed. I also learned that when war occurs, it is deeply disruptive and leaves survivors with a horde of losses that are unaccountable. The cut and slash and gun bulleting not only invoke memories of inhumanity but how an entire clan, community or nation-state can be wiped through wartime violence. This reality is a strong motivator for social action to prevent similar occurrences and preserve the lived experiences of the community.


Wartime violence is a very disruptive phenomenon. Those affected not only find themselves in unimaginable pain, misery, and loss, but also shifting personal and social identities that create untold ambivalence regarding the war. These problems are exacerbated when children are used as war soldiers. As Ishmael Beah's novel reveals, the unexpected loss of childhood and the profound transformation into an indiscriminate killer is holistically traumatizing. Children view their involvement in the violence as a way of bringing semblance, albeit hovering death. Those who have not encountered the lived experiences of combat vaguely associate wartime violence with mutilation, massacres, and genocide. However, Ishmael Beah's child soldiering encounter is a cause for social action and activism against war and the use of juvenile fighters.

Work Cited

Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier." New York, NY: Sara Crichton Books, 2007. Pdf.

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