Ishmael Beah

Jennifer Park

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Life Brief

  • Place of Birth- Matru Jong, Sierra Leone
  • Date of Birth- November 23, 1980
  • Hometown- Mogbwemo, Sierra Leone
  • Parents- Names are unavailable; both of Ishmael Beah's parents were killed at the start of the war
  • Siblings- Junior Beah, Ibrahim Beah
  • Spouse- Priscillia Kounkou Hoveyda Beah
  • Education- United Nations International School, Oberlin College
  • Occupation- member of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Division Advisory Committee, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, the Marine Corps Warfighting, and other NGO panels regarding the effects of war on youth; head of the Ishmael Beah Foundation
  • Place of Residence- Brooklyn, New York

Background Symbolism

The background, comprised of colorful school desks, relates to Ishmael Beah and his story because even though he was forced into violent situations, he was still just a child at heart. It was not by choice that he became a soldier and committed rather heinous acts but by the army's brainwashing and his hopelessness. "'All this is because of starvation, the loss of our families, and the need to feel safe and be a part of something when all else has broken down. I joined the army really because of the loss of my family and starvation. I wanted to avenge the deaths of my family,'" (Beah 199) Beah writes. Before he became a soldier, Ishmael Beah was a joyful spirit who enjoyed listening to rap music and dancing with his friends. Under the circumstances of trying to survive amidst a war, he was forced to leave the innocence of his childhood behind. After he was rescued, he began working toward rehabilitation, and his true character began to resurface. Once again Beah was able to enjoy an "ordinary" life. The background also relates to Beah because he returned to school and worked hard to receive a higher education and live a successful life dedicated to helping others.

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One of the things I found quite interesting about Ishmael Beah was the fact that he and his friends shared a passion for American hip hop and rap music. In their spare time, they would listen to music by Run DMC, LL Cool J, and other similar artists. Although they could not completely understand what was being said in the music, that did not stop them from enjoying themselves. Another interesting fact about Ishmael Beah was the familial situation in which he grew up in. Beah has two brothers, one older and one younger, but during his childhood he only lived with his older brother, Junior Beah. Ishmael and Junior Beah lived with their father and many stepmothers as well. "'Your father is a good man and he loves you very much. He just seems to attract the wrong stepmothers for you boys,'" (Beah 11) Beah's birth mother said to her sons. On the other hand, Beah's younger brother, Ibrahim Beah, lived with the boys' birth mother quite a distance away from Beah and his older brother. Lastly, when Ishmael Beah was a soldier, it was encouraged by the army for the soldiers to watch violent, gruesome warfare films and do drugs. Beah participated in these activities, and later on in the novel he had a difficult time breaking these unhealthy habits.


I believe that the sole purpose of this biography being written was for Ishmael Beah to write about his experiences as a soldier and overcoming his struggles. Furthermore, Beah's past brings awareness to a problem that still exists all around the world even today. Even though he grew up in a small village in a less developed country under the harsh conditions of a civil war, Ishmael Beah was still able to become a successful person. Also, Mr. Beah uses his success and his past to help others who are living under the circumstances in which he grew up in. One of his first steps towards getting to where he is today is told in A Long Way Gone. After an interview with a man who worked for the United Nations, Mr. Beah was sent to New York to speak at a UN conference on the behalf of children who went through similar experiences as him. "'I am not a soldier anymore; I am a child.... What I have learned from my experiences is that revenge is not good.... I've come to learn that if I am going to take revenge, in that process I will kill another person whose family will want revenge; then revenge and revenge and revenge will never come to an end...'" (Beah 199) said Beah regarding how we must put an end to violence and work towards world peace.


After being a child soldier at the age of 13 amidst a gruesome civil war in his home country of Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah had a difficult time building relationships, trusting others, and refraining from his old savage habits. During his time as a soldier, Beah was brainwashed by the army's propaganda. Throughout the war, he becomes more and more violent because he is told to seek revenge and hurt those who have hurt him. Subsequent to his rescue by UNICEF, Beah was put into a rehabilitation center, Benin House, in order to begin to piece his life back together. Soon after his rescue, he meets a nurse, Esther, who assists him emotionally and physically. During their first encounter of each other, Esther is kind and open. On the other hand, Beah is wary and untrusting. Regarding his thoughts on Esther, Beah wrote, "...I didn't know what to say and also didn't trust anyone at this point in my life. I had learned to survive and take care of myself. I had done just that for most of my short life, with no one to trust, and frankly, I liked being alone, since it made surviving easier," (Beah 153).


During a time in which Ishmael Beah's life was unstable and seemingly broken, Esther, Ishmael's nurse at Benin House, offered a helping hand to him when he needed it the most. After his time as a child soldier, Beah was unable to open up to others and talk about his past. However, as time went on, he was able to come to terms on changing his life for the better by befriending Esther. When he was still not able to completely refrain from his bad habits, Esther did not abandon or judge him. Instead, she stayed by his side, offered help, and encouraged him to do what was best for himself. "She listened attentively when I began to talk. Her eyes were glued to my face, and I bowed my head as I delved into my recent past," (Beah 155) Beah wrote when talking about sharing his violent past with Esther. Although their relationship was uneasy at first, in the end Beah really cared for her, "Why does she do it? Why do they all do it? I thought as we went our separate ways. It was the last time I saw her. I loved her but never told her," (Beah 181).


Ishmael Beah is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel A Long Way Gone. His book has been published in more than 30 languages around the world, and in 2007 he was nominated for a Quill Award. The same year, A Long Way Gone was ranked third out of the top ten nonfiction books in 2007 by Time magazine.

Hobbies/ Interests

Ishmael Beah first recognized his liking for American rap, hip hop, and reggae music at a young age in his childhood. In their spare time, Beah, his older brother, and their friends would listen to popular American rap music, memorize the lyrics, and make up dances to the songs. Although they did not completely understand the lyrics of the songs, that did not stop them from enjoying the music. Also, with soccer being among the more popular sports in Sierra Leone, at one point in the novel Beah and his friends play a makeshift game of soccer on the beach.


As mentioned earlier, Ishmael Beah has a passion for music. For him, it was a point of constance during his unpredictable, violent past. During his childhood, Beah would listen to hip hop and reggae cassettes on his walkman. I believe a walkman symbolizes Ishmael Beah and what he stands for because it represents innocence in his childhood even when situations became brutal. Also, music has the power to bring people together regardless of their background, which is what Beah's entire life revolves around. His point of focus in his work is to help others, bring people together, and generate peace among people and the world. I surmise that music does the exact same thing on a local to global scale. "'We are all brothers and sisters,'" (Beah 199) Beah stated at a UN conference in order to underscore the idea that we all need to work together to achieve peace.
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Friend or Foe?

If I knew Ishmael Beah, I think we would be friends, or at least I would want to be friends with him. One of the things that we have in common is our love for music. Although he prefers hip hop and rap and I don't, I believe that music is something that brings people together regardless their age, gender, race, religion, etc. Also, in the beginning of A Long Way Gone, Beah writes about how he made up dances with his friends in his free time. Despite the fact that I'm not a very good dancer and don't have much interest in dancing, I still admire his creative ability when it comes to music. Another reason I think Beah and I would be friends rather than foes is Ishmael Beah has a lot of experience and interesting stories in his life. Personally, I don't think that this is something we have in common, but I do think that I'm a good listener and would love to learn more about his journeys and struggles. After reading his book, I've not only learned so much about Beah, but I've also learned about how I can personally live a better life according to his principles. I can only imagine how much I could learn in a personal conversation with him. Lastly, I think Ishmael Beah and I would make great friends because we are both passionate about civil rights and helping the underprivileged.

Most Like

Ishmael Beah reminds me of Malala Yousafzai. Although their lives contrast on many degrees, they are both young adults from poorer countries that use their troubling pasts to bring attention to important issues that face today's youth. Miss Yousafzai and Mr. Beah are two young human rights activists that bring up the issues that need to be addressed and solved in the 21st century in order to secure a brighter future for their generation and the many generations to come. Also, they have both delivered speeches to the United Nations to talk about the issues they feel passionate about. Another thing that Miss Yousafzai and Mr. Beah have in common is they both have foundations to help with the issues they care about. The sole purpose of the Malala Fund is to provide girls with quality education, while the Ishmael Beah Foundation works to successfully reintegrate former child soldiers back into society.

Altruist or Egotist?

For anyone who has read A Long Way Gone, it should go without saying that Ishmael Beah is an altruist. When the rebels attacked the villages that Beah and his companions were located in, he looked out for his friends and brother. He prioritized staying together as a group no matter what. When situations became risky and dangerous, Beah did not make sure only he was in the clear but that everyone stuck together and was safe. He even let unfamiliar acquaintances from school join in on their journey to safety. Even when he wrongly used weapons and violence to defend his family and friends, his intention was to look out for his loved ones.


Book Review

Overall, I would rate A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah 3.5/5 stars. I have not read a lot of biographies, and they usually aren't my first choice when it comes to choosing a book to read. However, after reading this novel I have gained a lot of perspective on how drastically different life can be for other kids my age who live in unfourtunate situations. Reading this novel and learning more about how living through a war in the 21st century is like was almost surreal to me. There is such a wide gap placed between me and kids the same age as me in developing countries that what I hear on the news and read online is difficult to process and understand at times. My favorite part about A Long Way Gone was discovering Ishmael Beah's true character and principles. Throughout the novel, different sides of Beah are revealed as he treks through his journey, but the ending of the story ensures the truth behind him. Matter of fact, the part I enjoyed the most in this book was the ending. At the end of the story, Beah writes a flashback about how when he was younger an old man in his village would tell the same story to the children of the village every year. In the story, a hunter is about to shoot a monkey when, all of a sudden, the monkey turns around and tells the hunter that if he shoots him, the hunter's mother will die. On the other hand, if the hunter doesn't shoot the monkey, the hunter's father will die. One year Beah came up with an answer; although, he never told anyone, "I concluded to myself that if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament," (Beah 218).

What I've Learned

After reading A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, I have come to the consensus that by reading about someone else's life, you gain a lot of perspective on your own life. I think that from reading biographies you learn more about a person's character rather than learning textbook facts. I do not think the sole purpose of reading a biography is to be able to know someone's birthday, favorite film, or the name of their family members, but to celebrate the existence of a human being who has made a difference in this world. Unless you're reading about Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, etc., then maybe you really are forcibly reading a biography to learn textbook facts (or at least I hope you are). Reading this biography has been another reminder to be grateful for the lifestyle I am able to live, and it has inspired me to make more of a difference in this world. So many people around the world today live in terrible conditions, but Ishmael Beah has proved that it is completely possible to help those in need in order to create a more peaceful global society.
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