Study Guide: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: Book Summary|
A LONG WAY GONE: SUMMARY NOTES / PLOT ANALYSIS - ISHMAEL BEAH
The gunshots continue for the next five months. People mostly eat soaked raw rice with sugar or plain gari with salt, and listen to the radio, hoping to hear some good news. However, life doesn’t always work the way we want, and when a neighbor speaks out against the civilian deaths, he and his entire family are massacred. This makes people so afraid that they can’t leave their houses. It is only with time and the need to eat that people return to their daily business. Ishmael thinks that “they had run so far away from the war, only to be caught back in it. There is nowhere to go from here.” He thinks of Laura Simms who he has lost contact with for five months. He tries to call her and is unsuccessful. It is a sign that he is becoming more desperate to escape the lost cause of Sierra Leone.
Then, Ishmael’s uncle becomes sick. He develops a fever, and even though they bring him medicine, he grows worse. Unfortunately, there are no doctors or nurses to ask for help, because they have either fled the city or have gone into hiding. One night, while Ishmael is wiping his forehead, his uncle falls off the bed. Ishmael gets him back in bed and looks into his eyes. He can see that the man has given up hope. He tries to utter something, but falls dead. His aunt is inconsolable and tears run uncontrolled down Ishmael’s face. “He is always losing everything that means something to him.” His uncle is buried the next morning. His aunt collapses and cannot go the burial. Ishmael sits on the ground next to the grave and talks to his uncle until the curfew arrives, and he runs for home.
Ishmael finally gets through to Laura Simms, and he has a very important request to make of her. He asks that if he makes his way to New York, could he stay with her. She tells him that he absolutely has a home with her. He promises that he will call her when he reaches the capital of Guinea, Conakry, because that is the only way out of Sierra Leone – travel through a country that is at peace. So Ishmael leaves on October 31, 1997. He says goodbye to Mohamed on the verandah, thinking how this moment is becoming all too familiar – saying good bye to those he loves. Mohamed promises to tell the rest of the family, and Ishmael sets off on his last journey out of danger.
Ishmael first makes it to the old bus station by walking near the gutters in case of gunfire. The bus arrives after a long time and travels the back road out of the city. Then, they are let off at an old bridge from which they must walk all day to another bus junction. Once at the next station, the passengers wait all night, fearful, because they know they haven’t completely escaped the madness. Ishmael thinks, “When will I stop running from this war? Why does everyone keep dying except me?” Finally, the second bus arrives, but in the bushes are soldiers that stop it and check everyone. Fortunately, they allow all the passengers to board, and the bus continues on. After that, every time they approach a roadblock, Ishmael prays that there will be spiritual aid to help them through. They reach the destination for this bus, Kambia, at four in the afternoon. Immigration officers force them all to pay for the right to cross the border, but finally they are in Guinea. It is over fifty miles from there to Conakry, and Ishmael walks fast to the next bus that will take him there.
First, he has to cross a Guinean checkpoint before he can board the bus. He avoids eye contact with all the soldiers for fear they will recognize him as a former soldier. He presents his documents to a fat soldier smoking a cigar who forces him to pay to get his passport back. He finally is able to board the bus, but must stand all the way to the capital. They go through fifteen checkpoints and the soldiers are unmerciful. If you couldn’t pay their price, you were liked off the bus. An old man takes Ishmael under his wing and the soldiers assume they are father and son. As a result, the man pays the fees, and it is his documents that are checked. He does so willingly, because he says he has plenty of money. One of the soldiers takes Ishmael’s favorite belt, and at a later checkpoint, when he is ordered to raise his arms, his pants fall down. Most laugh at his predicament, but one soldier takes off one of his own shoelaces and ties it around Ishmael’s waist to hold up his pants. Then, Ishmael comes to a point where he only has one hundred leones left, and the cost of the entry fee into the capital is three hundred leones. Fortunately, while he is standing in line at the entry to the city, a man in front of him drops one of his bags. So, Ishmael picks it up and nonchalantly walks out of the entry point. He has entered the country illegally, and he knows it could cost him later. However, for now, he has reached the city where he can call Laura. He finds out that he can find shelter at the Sierra Leonean Embassy. They let him in on the basis of his passport, and he finds a corner in the compound to sleep for the night. Beside him sits a mother whispering a story to her children and Ishmael falls asleep with the memory of the stories his own mother had told him as a child.
One of the stories he has heard as a child is one that sums up the contradictions of war and he ends this story by presenting it to the reader: A hunter goes into the bush to kill a monkey. He finds one lounging in an unconcerned manner in a tree and raises his rifle and aims at the animal. The monkey then begins to speak, telling the hunter that if he shoots him, the hunter’s mother will die, and if he doesn’t shoot him, his father will die. The storyteller then asks, “What would you do if you were the hunter?” It is a Catch-22 for any child who is asked the question. Who would you choose? There is no right answer, but Ishmael, in spite of his love for his mother, had decided at the age of seven when he first heard the story, that he would shoot the monkey so that he would no longer have a chance to put other hunters in the same predicament.
Ishmael’s story ends here. The reader knows that Ishmael made it to New York and began a new life there. He finished high school and graduated from Oberlin College. He now works for various groups who deal with the issue of children affected by war. He has finally escaped war and found peace.
Ishmael finally realizes that he cannot stay in Sierra Leone, so his
long, arduous journey out of his country and into Guinea becomes a metaphorical journey out of death and into life.
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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone".
. 09 May 2017