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

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The group of boys continues walking in silence through the night until Moriba, Saidu’s best friend, stops and begins to weep uncontrollably. The other boys fall into tears as well, but soon they stop and continue on without saying a word. They know they can only grieve for a few moments in order that they continue trying to just survive.

Soon Kanei breaks the silence by saying that he has a feeling that they will find their families or at least news of them. He even stretches his hands high as if trying to catch the sun. That night, however, they find themselves forced to sit through a terrible thunderstorm with plenty of lightening. In the morning, they are all shivering and stop to allow their clothes to dry. Finally, they set off again and find themselves approaching the village where their families are supposed to be. They come to a small banana farm and see a man who turns out to be Gasemu a single man from Ishmael’s village. He recognizes the boy and asks all of them to help him carry the bundles of bananas back to the village. Along the way, he asks Ishmael if he is still a troublesome boy and then notes that Ishmael no long has a natural glow like it had when he was a child. He also tells him that his family talks about him everyday and had sent Junior out to look for him. He had obviously returned with no news, so they will all be overjoyed to see him. They walk for a while with the bananas until Gasemu says the village is just over the hill. Ishmael takes the lead as he is anxious to see his family at last.

Just as Ishmael starts down the hill, gunshots ring out with dogs barking and people screaming. The boys hide in the bushes and listen to the gunshots. Ishmael runs into the village as soon as the shooting stops. It is completely on fire with bullet shells covering the ground. People have been locked into their houses and the houses set on fire. Some get out with the boys help but later die. A burned child’s yelp is seared on Ishmael’s brain. Then, Gasemu begins screaming from another side of the village and Ishmael goes to him where he sees over twenty young men and boys all dead from gunshots. Ishmael then continues to run through the village looking for his own family. He finally comes to the house where Gasemu says they were living and it is only charred from the outside. However, the flames inside have so totally destroyed everything and everyone inside that there are only ashes left. Gasemu then tells him he looked at every body, but didn’t find Ishmael’s family. Ishmael is more than devastated now. He feels like something has been place on his head that is so heavy that his neck aches.

The first reaction to his family’s deaths becomes anger at Gasemu. If they hadn’t stopped to rest on the hill with him and carry his bananas, Ishmael might have seen his family and died with them. He begins to choke the older man and then picks up a pestle and shatters the man’s nose with it. Gasemu can only say that he didn’t know this was going to happen. His friends argue over whether it was Gasemu’s fault, but the older man insists, “None of this is anyone’s fault.” Suddenly, they hear voices coming their way. They run into the nearby coffee farm and hide. They see a group of more than ten rebels coming their way, one man carrying a severed head. They sit on the ground and play cards, smoke marijuana, and boat about what they have done. They admit they have burned three villages that day and are pleased that in the most recent one, no one escaped. For no real reason, they begin to shoot their weapons into the sky. The noise frightens one of Ishmael’s group and causes the leaves to rustle. The rebels come towards them so as if on a silent signal, the boys and Casemu jump up and begin running. The rebels follow, firing their guns, but the boys keep running for hours, deeper into the forest. Finally, the rebels give up and the group of boys and Casemu spend the night under bushes soaked with rain. Casemu begins to cry like a child and Ishmael knows that when a grown man cries this way he has no other choice. Suddenly, Casemu begins to roll on the ground in pain. The boys then realize that he had been shot as they were fleeing the rebels. He has a terrible wound in his side that they cannot get to stop bleeding. They know the truth of what is going to happen to him. In between his gasps of pain, he tells them there is a wahlee (a place outside a village where people processed coffee or other crops) nearby and if they take him back to the farm, he will show them where they missed the path and took the wrong turn. At first, he is able to walk with help, but eventually they are forced to pick him up and carry him. When they finally arrive at the coffee farm, they lay him down where Gasemu dies. Once again Ishmael finds himself crying softly for another loss.


The most poignant aspect of this chapter is the irony of Ishmael finding his family only to lose them once more before he even can see them or say goodbye. His ability to escape capture by the rebels again is almost like the literary deus ex machina ( god by way of a machine), a literary device that almost seems contrived. It makes the reader wonder when Ishmael’s luck will run out.


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