War Is Hell

The first and most important theme is War is Hell. Although this is an overworked phrase, it fits this narrative perfectly. The horrors and tragedy that Ishmael relates to the reader are almost unbelievable. The atrocities committed against innocent civilians give new meaning to the idea of war as well.

There is Always Hope

The second theme is: There is always Hope. In spite of all the terrible events in Ishmael’s life, he finds a way to overcome everything and find love again and meaning to his existence again. Also, with the work he begins at the UN, we can hope that other children will not be subjected in the future to the tragedy he had to endure.

When Everything Else is Gone, There is Always Love

A final theme tells us when everything else disappears, there is always love. Ishmael learns this the hard way. He has a kind of family unit with the soldiers that actually carries over into the love and friendship between him and Alhaji. Then, there is the love of Uncle Tommy and his family and their willingness to make Ishmael a son and a brother. Finally, there is the love of people like Esther and Laura who accept him unconditionally and welcome him into their homes when he most needed help and love.


The mood is mostly one of horror and fear throughout as Ishmael makes his way through war. However, it becomes uplifting and hopeful when he is successful in finding peace.

Ishmael Beah - BIOGRAPHY

Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone on November 23, 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. He graduated from Oberlin College in 2004 with a degree in Politics. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and has spoken before 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 war. He has also spoken before the United Nations on several occasions. His work has appeared in Vespertine Press and LIT magazine. He lives in New York City.

Awards & Recognition

A Long Way Gone was named one of the Top 10 Nonfiction books of 2007 by Time Magazine.
It was nominated for a Quill Award in the Best Debut Author category in 2007.

Cite this page:

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