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

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Ishmael is finally “repatriated” to live with his uncle. He is worried about what to do there especially if his nightmares and migraines return. He also feels such guilt over being the only one in his family to have survived the war. Nonetheless, he packs his few belongings and with his heart beating very fast, he says goodbye to Mohamed, Alhaji, and Mambu. Mohamed embraces him, but Alhaji just claps him on the shoulder. Ishmael never sees this longtime friend again. Esther gives him her address and tells him he can come any time.

As soon as Ishmael arrives at his uncle’s house, his uncle picks him up and carries him to the verandah. He says in a formal manner that he welcomes him like he would welcome a chieftain. Then, everyone else in the family hugs him, and his aunt makes him a chicken dish for supper. This is a great honor, because chicken is only served on special occasions. Allie shows him where he will sleep, and Ishmael is impressed by how neat and clean the room is. His chores are made very clear, and this calms Ishmael’s nerves. Later, his uncle and aunt go for prayers at the mosque, and when they returned, they play a cassette of a storyteller. That’s when Ishmael finally begins to feel comfortable with people who are happy all the time.

A day or two later, Allie gives Ishmael a set of dress clothes and tells him they are going to a dance at a pub. They have to sneak out so his uncle doesn’t know. Once he arrives, Ishmael feels somewhat out of place, because everyone seems to know someone else. So, he begins to dance by himself in the corner. Then, he is approached by a girl who leads him onto the floor until an older boy comes to take her away. Allie thinks he is really smooth, because girls come to him even when he doesn’t say a thing. A few nights later, Ishmael sneaks out by himself and meets up at the pub with the same girl. They date for a few weeks, but she breaks it off, because he won’t tell her anything about himself. It is the same with all the other girls he meets. However, Ishmael isn’t discouraged, because he likes being alone.

Leslie comes to see Ishmael to tell him that Mr. Kamara recommended him for one of two positions to a conference on children at war being held at the UN in New York. Ishmael is intrigued, although he doesn’t believe he will ever be chosen. Nonetheless, he dresses up and walks to the address Leslie had given him for the interview. It is a very tall building, and Ishmael finds himself riding an elevator for the first time. At his interview, he is asked why he thinks he should be chosen to present information about children at war. He tells the man that he is the best representative, because he has experienced being a child soldier first hand. He gives a wonderful speech about his life and his country, and the interviewer ends the interview with a smile. Ishmael can’t figure out why he’s smiling so much.

On the way home, Ishmael sees a convoy of cars and vans that are wealthy and important looking. Allie tells him it was Tejan Kabbah, the newly elected president. Later, Ishmael’s uncle plays another story cassette that makes them all laugh uncontrollably. His uncle tells him, “We should do this again. Laughing like this is good for the soul.”

One morning, Mr. Kamara shows up again and tells Ishmael he has been chosen for the trip to New York City. Ishmael had told only Mohamed about the possibility of going to the UN, so he knows that eventually now he’ll have to tell his uncle. Mr. Kamara takes him to get his passport and his visa. Of course, there is the problem of his birth certificate, but eventually all the documents are completed. When he arrives home, he tells his uncle where he has been and why. However, his uncle really doesn’t believe him and jokes everyday about whether that is the day Ishmael will go to America. Mr. Kamara next came to take him to the American Embassy. Here Ishmael meets Bah, the other boy chosen to go on the trip. Then he is interviewed by a white woman who speaks to him behind glass. She wants to know the purpose of his trip and whether he can guarantee that he will return. Dr. Tamba, the man who is escorting the boys through the process, steps in and smoothes over the situation. That assures the boys of their visas. Dr. Tamba keeps their documents for safekeeping and the boys are free to go.

The day comes when Ishmael is to leave, and it is only when he packs his suitcase and tells the family that he is on his way to the airport that his uncle finally believes him. He tells Ishmael to call him from America, and then he calls the family together to pray for God’s blessings on Ishmael.


Good things come to Ishmael, because he moves in with his uncle and his family. He is chosen for a UN conference because of his experiences as a child soldier. Most important, his uncle calls him his son and wishes blessings upon him. It looks as if his rehabilitation is really working.

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