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

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The following quotations are important at various points of the story (Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007):

1. “We must strive to be like the moon.”
(pg, 16; When Ishmael asked his grandmother what the old man meant by this quote, she said it was an adage that served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others. People complain when there is too much sun and the again when it is too cold. However, no one grumbles when the moon shines, because a lot of happy things happened in the moonlight.

2. “This is one of the consequences of the civil war. People stop trusting each other, and every stranger becomes an enemy.”
(pg. 37; Here Ishmael emphasizes how relationships with other people became corrupted as the result of war).

3. “Is there an end to this madness, and is there any future for him beyond the bushes?”
(pg. 45; Ishmael asks himself this question as he faces the horrors of war and is separated from his family.)

4. “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen.”
(pg. 55; Here Ishmael remembers his father’s words as a mantra of hope.)

5. “My children, this country has lost its good heart.”
(pg. 56; These are the words of an old man who gives the boys yams and says in one sentence the truth of their new existence.)

6. The boys are not quick enough and once again are overpowered by the men of a village. This time they are a long way from Mattru Jong. A long way gone.
(pg. 65; These words of despair give rise to the title of Ishmael’s memoir.)

7. Ishmael feels as if they have no control over their future. They only know how to survive.
(pg. 87; This is the point that being a soldier forced to fight and kill has brought them.)

8. Along the way, they see two dead bodies that make Ishmael want to vomit. One of the soldiers smiles and says, “You will get used to it. Everybody does.”
(pg. 100; This is the most terrifying aspect of such a war – getting used to violence and death.)

9. One Sunday morning, the corporal gives them the day off. He says, “If you are religious, I mean a Christian, worship your Lord today, because you might not have another chance.”
(pg. 115; Here we see the ultimate truth of war for a soldier.)

10. On a typical raid, Ishmael and the boys surround a rebel camp and wait for the lieutenant’s command. Ishmael gets angrier and angrier as he comes to believe that these look just like the rebels who killed his family and played cards in the ruins of the village. “So he shoots as many as he can even though it doesn’t make him feel any better.”
(pg. 122; Here is the truth of revenge – it doesn’t bring closure to the pain of loss.)

11. “My squad is my family, my gun is my provider, and protector, and my rule is to kill or be killed.”
(pg. 116; Ishmael has become a real soldier, trained to kill or be killed.)

12. These boys are rebels and soon, threats break out as well as hidden bayonets. Ishmael thinks that “perhaps the naïve foreigners thought that removing them from the war would lessen their hatred for the RUF. It hadn’t crossed their minds that a change of environment wouldn’t immediately make them normal boys; they are dangerous and brainwashed to kill.”
(pg. 135; Ishmael has these thoughts after he gets into a fight with rebel boys at the rehabilitation center.)

13. “At night, some of them wake up from nightmares, sweating, screaming, and punching their own heads to drive out the images that continue to torment them even when they are no longer asleep.”
(pg. 148; This is what many of the boy soldiers experience as they are in the midst of rehabilitation.)

14. “This isn’t your fault, you know. It really isn’t. You’ll get though this.”
(pg. 151; These are the words the staffers at Benin House constantly repeat to the boys there to help them come to terms with what they have done.)

15. “Even though he has heard that phrase from every staff member – and frankly he has always hated it – he begins this day to believe it.”
16. “I feel as if there is nothing left for me to be alive for. I have no family, it is just me. No one will be able to tell me stories about my childhood.”
(pg. 167; Ishmael reveals this to Esther as he slowly begins to come to terms with his loss.)

17. “We should do this again. Laughing like this is good for the soul.”
(pg. 188; Ishmael’s Uncle tells him this as a comfort after he comes to live there.)

18. Ishmael is so pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone, because if he is killed when he returns home, he knows that a memory of his existence will be alive somewhere in the world.
(pg. 200; These words echo our age-old need to be remembered.)

19. “They had run so far away from the war, only to be caught back in it. There is nowhere to go from here.”
(pg. 207; Ishmael has this thought when war comes to Freetown.)

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