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Study Guide: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: Book Summary

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A LONG WAY GONE: LITERATURE NOTES / CRITICISM - ISHMAEL BEAH


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Summary

One day, during his fifth month at Benin House, Esther comes by and Ishmael tells her, “I feel as if there is nothing left for me to be alive for. I have no family, it is just me. No one will be able to tell me stories about my childhood.” Esther tells him, with a hug, that he can think of her as his sister. She reminds of him of his childhood friend, Abigail, with whom he could laugh and laugh. He wishes Esther was Abigail so they can “laugh with all their beings, longer and without any worries as he had done with Abigail . . .” Then, Esther smiles at him, and he forgets about his loneliness for the time being.

The following day, Esther tells Ishmael that there are visitors coming to the center and they want the boys to hold a talent show. Esther wants him to sing his reggae songs, but Ishmael suggests a monologue from Shakespeare. She says yes to that idea, but still wants him to sing. The visitors are from the European Commission, the UN, UNICEF, and several NGOs. When they arrive, they melt into the crowd of boys to get to know them and then sit in anticipation of the talent show. It consists of stories like the Bra Spider, Ishmael’s monologue, and a short hip-hop play that Ishmael had written about the redemption of a former child soldier. Mr. Kamara, the center director, is so impressed with Ishmael’s play that he asks him to be a spokesperson for the center by giving speeches about how it’s possible for a boy like him to be redeemed. Ishmael agrees and finds himself speaking frequently in Freetown.

Another good thing happens to Ishmael when his childhood friend, Mohamed, arrives at the center. They are terribly happy to see each other, and Mohamed reminds Ishmael as they reminisce that he was a troublesome boy!

In his seventh month at the center, Leslie tells Ishmael that because he has no living family members, he will be placed in a foster home when his time at the center is over. Ishmael then tells him that his father had once mentioned an uncle who lived in Freetown. His name is Tommy, and he is a carpenter. Leslie says that finding him may not be possible, but he will try. One Sunday after noon awhile later, Leslie comes back again, and behind him is standing a tall man with a wide, genuine smile who is introduced as Ishmael’s uncle. Their reunion is amazing: Ishmael is hugged and exclaimed over, but he isn’t sure whether this is just some man pretending to be his uncle. Eventually, the tears the man sheds convinces Ishmael he is the real thing, and the boy finally smiles. His uncle offers him a home when he leaves the center to which Ishmael says that he doesn’t even know him. His uncle says that they cannot go back, but they can start from here, and that he will visit Ishmael every weekend. He says that Ishmael looks like his father, but he hopes he doesn’t have his father’s stubbornness! When his uncle leaves, Ishmael doesn’t know what to do in his happy state, so he turns to his music. The first song he hears is Marley’s saying, “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cause every little thing gonna be all right . . .”

Ishmael doesn’t tell his friends about the discovery of his uncle, because he feels guilty that no one in their families has been found. As he promised, his uncle visits every weekend. They take walks over the same path and talk about family. Without saying anything, his uncle decides that he will not mention the war. They reminisce about the times his uncle and his father were troublesome, which makes his uncle declare that he will give Ishmael leeway if he is troublesome, because of how he and Ishmael’s father had behaved. Ishmael says, “ ‘I think my troublesome days are long gone.’ His uncle replies, ‘Ah, you are still a boy . . .’ ” Ishmael loves the walks with his uncle, because they give him a chance to talk about his childhood and all the things before the war he needs to remember.

One weekend, his uncle takes Ishmael to meet his family. The house sits in New England Ville, a hilly area in the western part of Freetown. His house sits on a hill with a beautiful view of the city. It reminds Ishmael of Mattru Jong. His uncle’s wife embraces him strongly and calls him her son. He meets all her children from a previous marriage whom his uncle is raising as his own. They all hug him, and Allie, the oldest boy is especially glad to have another boy in the family.

Ishmael’s uncle tells him that if he is interested in carpentry, he will apprentice him, but, if he is his father’s son, he probably wants to go to school. Allie takes Ishmael to a soccer match and introduces their cousin, Aminata. He later becomes quite close to the two of them. Throughout his visit, Ishmael is very happy, but finds it difficult to smile or respond. He just sits quietly and takes it all in. Then, his uncle takes him home, giving him transportation money to come to his house whenever Ishmael feels like it. He tells him he’ll see him again soon and calls Ishmael his son.

Notes

Ishmael’s rehabilitation continues as he finds a real family. He still has a way to go, because he finds it difficult to show his emotions. However, there is hope now that wasn’t there before.



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