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

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Even though being in a group of six is not to their advantage, the boys know they need to stay together, because they have a better chance of escaping day-to-day troubles they face. Unfortunately, people are terrified of boys their age, because they have heard the rumors about how these boys patrol for the rebels in special units, killing and maiming civilians. As a result, when villagers see young boys they often attack them first before they even know if they are dangerous. So the boys decide not to travel through villages and walk through the nearby bushes. “This is one of the consequences of the civil war. People stop trusting each other, and every stranger becomes an enemy.”

One day, in their travels, the boys leave a forested area of a village they had bypassed. Suddenly, a group of huge, muscular men spring up from the bushes, raising their machetes and hunting rifles. They are the voluntary guards of the village and have been ordered by their chief to bring the boys back to the village. There, they are tied up and questioned. Even though they insist they are not rebels, the chief doesn’t believe them until two things happen: one is the discovery of a rap tape in Ishmael’s pocket which makes the chief force an explanation of rap music, and the other is the boy of Mattru Jong, who even though he really doesn’t know the boys, says that he does and saves their lives. The boys are untied and fed and even offered a place to stay there in the village. However, they refuse, because they know that eventually the rebels will come.

The six friends return to the thick forest where they can see the thick smoke from all the villages that have been set on fire, hanging above the swaying trees. Ishmael is very concerned about his brother who has been unusually quiet lately. His face is dull and he barely ever smiles. He stares at the sky until the sun goes down. He also seldom makes eye contact and instead plays with a stone he has found on the path while staring at the ground. It reminds Ishmael of the time Junior had tried to teach him how to skip a stone across the river. He said it was magic to make the stone walk on water. However, no matter how he tried Ishmael couldn’t do it and in trying, tipped over his water bucket and fell in the river. Junior had sent on home and filled both buckets. Then, when he came back to the house, Junior had looked Ishmael over carefully to make sure he was not hurt, and when he was done, he had tickled his little brother. It makes Ishmael want Junior to raise his head and ask his little brother if he is fine.

Just like Junior, the other boys also seem different. They are restless and edgy, tapping their feet or breathing heavily. Khalilou sits too quietly as if he has lost his spirit. Ishmael tries to think of a way to break the silence, but he can’t think of one. Later, he wishes he had. The next morning a woman among some travelers who pass them in the empty village tells Gibrilla that his aunt is in a village about thirty miles away. So, they pack up the bitter, unripe oranges that have become their only food and head for Kamator. It turns out that even though it is far away from Mattru Jong, the villagers are on guard and ready to run away should the rebels arrive. In return for food and a place to sleep, the six boys offer to become watchmen. Unfortunately, as time passes, and the rebels don’t come, the people become less vigilant. They order the boys to begin clearing a field for planting.

The planting is hard work that none of the boys have ever done. Using machetes and axes, they must cut down bushes and shrubs in an area the size of a football field. They have no choice in the matter, and as a result, they suffer severe body aches and bruised, blistered hands. Gibrilla’s uncle just shakes his head and says, “You lazy town boys.” They spend three days cutting their portion of the field, while Gibrilla’s uncle only takes three hours cutting his. Next they have to plant the cassava which is hard on the back. At the end of the day, Ishmael sits in the village square and watches the young boys wrestle. When one boy misbehaves, his mother takes him by the ear and drags him home. It reminds Ishmael of the fact that he and his brother grew up in their village without a mother, which made Ishmael behave badly. He had no mother to discipline him and so he became the object of the evening gossip. The villagers were worried that Ishmael and Junior would have no complete training and pitied them. Because Ishmael hated their pity, he would often beat up the children of the gossipers. Now they are once again motherless misfits.

They farm at Kamator for three months, and Ishmael never gets used to it. The sad thing about all the hard labor is that the rebels eventually did come, and their hard work all went to ruin. What is even sadder is that it is during this attack that Ishmael and his friends are separated and Ishmael never sees his older brother again.


This chapter is somewhat of a contrast to the violence of the war. Life continues to go on in the village of Kamator where Ishmael is reminded of life in his own village and how much his brother Junior loved him and cared for him. They were motherless misfits there, and now they are motherless misfits once again.

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