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

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The boys are so hungry that it hurts for them to even drink water, and it feels as if something is eating the inside of their stomachs. The one cassava farm that had ravaged had not lasted long and there seem to be no rabbits or birds anywhere. They are even so desperate that when they come across a little boy eating two ears of corn, they steal it from him and share it among themselves. His parents do not confront the boys about their behavior, because they seem to know their desperate situation. In fact, later the little boyís mother gives each of them an ear of corn. This makes Ishmael feel guilty for only a few minutes, because in his position, there isnít much time for remorse. Finally, they feel driven to return to Mattru Jong once again to try to appease their hunger.

As they are walking through the middle of the grassland in single file, three rebels suddenly rise from behind the dried grasses and pointed guns at Gibrilla who is in the lead. They cock their rifles and begin to harass the boys by holding the rifles or their bayonets to their heads or throats. Then they begin walking them back to a village they had just passed. Ishmael notes that the rebels, none of whom are over twenty-one, are wearing clothing, shoes and jewelry that Ishmael is sure must have been stolen from houses and shops the rebels have looted. The rebels talk quietly as they force the boys along and even though Ishmael cannot hear their words, all he can think about is death, and he struggles to avoid fainting.

When two of the three rebels run on ahead, they leave only one boy guarding the six friends, but none of them try to overcome him, because he carries a semiautomatic machine gun and that makes him much more powerful. When they arrive in the village, the other two rebels have gathered everyone who is still there together with the six boys. There are about fifteen villagers, some of whom are young boys and girls. While they are standing there, they hear the sound of footsteps coming over the bridge. It is an old man whom the rebels immediately grab and begin to torture and harass. They question him as to why he left Mattru Jong and even though he insists itís because he left to look for his family, they insist itís because he is against the cause of the freedom fighters. They are extremely rude and disrespectful to the man, and Ishmael is appalled, because he has grown up in a culture where good behavior is demanded of everyone and young people never disrespect their elders. He also is appalled, although only in his thoughts, by their insistence that they are freedom fighters, fighting for a cause. He canít understand what their cause is. They canít even spell RUF as they paint it on a wall. Instead, they seem to be copying what they have seen rather than automatically spelling out the letters.

Then the rebels ask the old man if he has any last words to say and before the boys know it, a shot rings out. The old man runs around thinking he has been shot. Instead, they have just shot the gun close to his head to terrify him. They are very amused by his reaction. The rebels next announce that they are going to select some people from among them to be recruited into their army. First, they choose Khalilou and then Ishmael. Junior isnít chosen and he can only look down at the ground, avoiding Ishmaelís eyes. It makes Ishmael realize that this will make their worlds different and break their connection. However, the rebels then suddenly change their minds and announce a new selection. This time, Junior is chosen, but Ishmael is not. Since the remainder of the people are not needed, they are marched to the river where they say they are going to kill them all. Juniorís eyes are red, because he is trying so hard to hold back his tears as his brother and the rest are forced to kneel with their hands behind their heads. Suddenly, gunshots ring out and the rebels run for cover. Everyone scatters, running for their lives. Ishmael runs as fast as he can and hides behind a log. The bullets fly over and over into the night and Ishmael lies as quiet as he can with his hand over his nose to control the sound of his breathing. Some of the people are recaptured and he must lay there and listen to their cries of fear and pain. At one point, the rebels even pretend to leave the village and recapture even more as they crawl back to their homes. Then, they set the whole village on fire.

The gunfire eventually fades and Ishmael is now lying under a tree, wondering what to do now. Then, he hears whispers from behind him and recognizes Junior, Talloi, Koloko, Gibrilla, and Khalilou. He whispers to them, and they guide him to them where they are hiding behind a huge rotted log. They then begin walking back to Mattru Jong once more. When they arrive, it is empty and they sit around the fire until dawn, never speaking a word. In the morning, they finally begin to discuss where they will go. It is as if they have been awakened from a nightmare or dream that has given them a different take on life and the situation they are in. They decide they must seek out someplace that is safe, somewhere far away from where they are. They will leave the next morning, but first they take time to wash their clothes and leave them to dry overnight.


The boys are finally captured and are nearly killed. Once again, new gunfire saves them and they run for their lives. These near misses make the reader feel like the boys are on borrowed time. Eventually, they will be captured for good or die. It seems inevitable. The idea that they have been awakened from a nightmare or a dream is very poignant. These are just young boys who have been forced by circumstances beyond their control to learn survival tactics when only days before they were growing up together and singing the rap music they loved.

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