Jan 7th, 2011 by Lisa
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
|A Long Way Goneis the story of a rap-loving young boy growing up during civil war in Sierra Leone. Under unimaginable conditions he was without his family, traveling with a pack of boys, trying to survive.While wandering the land, he never let himself be happy even when they found villages that would treat them to food and water – “It was much easier being sad than to go back and forth between emotions.” He was then captured by the government army, given drugs and turned into a soldier at the age of 13.|
Book Club Ideas
Ishmael loved hip hop and rap. The music provided an escape from the war and also saved his life. Ishmael was captured in a village and as he was being undressed rap cassettes fell out of his pants. The chief inspected them as they “waited for the chief to grant us life or death.” Ishmael was instructed to sing and dance to “O.P.P” by Naughty by Nature and “I Need Love” by LL Cool J. The village chief then realized they were just boys and let them go.
At a moment in the book when Ishmael should have been happy, he was afraid to grant himself that emotion because he “still believed in the fragility of happiness.” His friends, trying to cheer him up, played Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds“ and together they sang “don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right”
He looks to the sky for guidance, for inspiration and to try to make sense of what is happening. The sun and moon are the only constants in his life and the only things he could count on as he wandered the land.
One night one of the boys Ishmael was traveling with tells a story about why spiders have a thin waistline. In his story, a spider tied a rope around his waist so that he could be pulled back and forth between the two villages that were preparing festive meals. Unfortunately the meals were ready at the same time thus both sides of the string were pulled at the same time. I enjoyed reading this story because you could see the boys still had their imaginations, despite the immense terror they must have felt.
Book Club Menu
A common drink in Sierra Leone is ginger beer which is made out of pure ginger and sometimes with cloves and lime juice for added flavor.
Sierra Leonean cuisine includes cassava bread, fried fish, okra soup and groundnut stew, which has been called the country’s national dish. The spider story mentioned above can provide inspiration for your menu: one village made okra soup with palm oil and fish. The other made cassava leaves with meat. Cassava chips would be a great appetizer for your book club party for A Long Way Gone.
For some other ideas for recipes from West Africa try the “My Cooking” West African Cookbook by Dokpe L. Ogunsanya
Visit www.sierra-leone.org for more recipes and some beautiful pictures of Sierra Leone.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4.08 stars (18,204 reviews)|
|Amazon: 4.5 stars (528 reviews)|
|Barnes & Noble: 4.5 stars (197 reviews)|
|My Rating: 4 stars|
- It is hard to imagine the conditions Ishmael Beah had to endure both when he was wandering the lands and when he became a boy soldier. How do you think you would have reacted if you were put under those same conditions? What would have been the hardest thing to endure?
- At times it is difficult to forgive others and to forgive ourselves. Would Ishmael Beah have been able to achieve what he has today if he was not able to forgive? Would you have been able to move on after such horrendous acts were done both to and by you?
- Music and particularly rap play an important role in Ishmael’s life. How did listening to his music again in the rehabilitation center help him heal?
- As he wanders the land, he thinks back to lessons he learned from his father and other family members. How did these lessons help him survive? What lessons have you learned from your family that gives you inspiration?
Purchase A Long Way Gone at your favorite bookseller
About the Author
Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980. He moved to the United States in 1998 and finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York. In 2004 he graduated from Oberlin College with a B.A. in political science. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO) at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, and many other NGO panels on children affected by the war. His work has appeared in VespertinePress and LIT magazine. He lives in New York City.
Visit the website of Ishmael Beah
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