A Long Way Gone

Ishmael Beah Character Analysis

The author and subject of the memoir. Beah is a writer based in New York City who at the age of twelve was orphaned by the civil war in Sierra Leone. At first just a boy on the run from the civil war, he is eventually captured by government soldiers. Although he was only a child, Beah was coerced into fighting for the government, and even came to think of himself as a willing participant. After two years of fighting and killing, he is taken from the front and, eventually, rehabilitated. Beah has since become an advocate for the rehabilitation of child soldiers.

Ishmael Beah Quotes in A Long Way Gone

The A Long Way Gone quotes below are all either spoken by Ishmael Beah or refer to Ishmael Beah. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Children in War Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar, Strauss and Giroux edition of A Long Way Gone published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.
"Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"
"Because there is a war."
"You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"
"Yes, all the time."
"Cool."
I smile a little.
"You should tell us about it sometime."
"Yes, sometime."

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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There were all kinds of stories told about the war that made it sound as if it was happening in a faraway and different land.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

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Whenever I get the chance to observe the moon now, I still see those same images I saw when I was six, and it pleases me to know that part of my childhood is still imbedded in me.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Moon
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

I was afraid to fall asleep, but staying awake also brought back painful memories.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

We were so hungry that it hurt to drink water and we felt cramps in our guts. It was as though something were eating the insides of our stomachs. Our lips became parched and our joints weakened and ached.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior, Talloi, Khalilou, Gibrilla, Kaloko
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

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We decided to leave the village the next day and go somewhere safe, somewhere far away from where we were. We had no idea where we would go or even how to get to a safe place, but we were determined to find one.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior, Talloi, Khalilou, Gibrilla, Kaloko
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

Being in a group of six boys was not to our advantage… People were terrified of boys our age. Some had heard rumors about young boys being forced by rebels to kill their families and burn their villages.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior, Talloi, Khalilou, Gibrilla, Kaloko
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

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This was one of the consequences of civil war. People stopped trusting each other, and every stranger became an enemy. Even people who knew you became extremely careful about how they related or spoke to you.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior, Talloi, Khalilou, Gibrilla, Kaloko
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

I felt as if somebody was after me. Often my shadow would scare me and cause me to run for miles. Everything felt awkwardly brutal. Even the air seemed to want to attack me and break my neck.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

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When I was very little, my father used to say, “If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die.”

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Beah’s Father
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

One of the unsettling things about my journey, mentally, physically, and emotionally, was that I wasn’t sure when or where it was going to end.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

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Every time people come at us with the intention of killing us, I close my eyes and wait for death. Even though I am still alive, I feel like each time I accept death, part of me dies. Very soon I will complete die and all that will be left is my empty body walking with you.

Related Characters: Saidu (speaker), Ishmael Beah, Jumah, Moriba, Alhaji, Kanei
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

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Even though our journey was difficult, every once in a while we were able to do something that was normal and made us happy for a brief moment.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Saidu, Jumah, Moriba, Alhaji, Kanei, Musa
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

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I longed for the gentle, dark, and shiny old hands of my grandmother; my mother’s tight enclosed embrace, during the times I visited her, as if hiding and protecting me from something; my father’s laughter when we played soccer together and when he sometimes chased me in the evening with a bowl of cold water to get me to take a shower; my older brother’s arms around me when we walked to school and when he sometimes elbowed me to stop me from saying things I would regret; and my little brother, who looked exactly like me and would sometimes tell people that his name was Ishmael when he did something wrong.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Junior, Beah’s Mother, Beah’s Father, Beah’s Younger Brother, Beah’s Grandmother
Page Number: 71-72
Explanation and Analysis:

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Under those stars and sky I used to hear stories, but now it seemed as if it was the sky that was telling us a story as its stars fell, violently colliding with each other. The moon hid behind clouds to avoid seeing what was happening.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Moon
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sometimes night has a way of speaking to us, but we almost never listen.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

They have lost everything that makes them human. They do not deserve to live. That is why we must kill every single one of them. Think of it as destroying a great evil. It is the highest service you can perform for your country.

Related Characters: Lieutenant Jabati (speaker), Ishmael Beah, Jumah, Moriba, Alhaji, Kanei, Musa
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

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Vizualize the enemy, the rebels who killed your parents, your family, and those who are responsible for everything that has happened to you.

Related Characters: Lieutenant Jabati (speaker), Ishmael Beah, Jumah, Moriba, Alhaji, Musa
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 16 Quotes

We fought all day in the rain. The forest was wet and the rain washed the blood off the leaves as if cleansing the surface of the forest, but the dead bodies remained under the bushes and the blood that poured out of the bodies stayed on top of the soaked soil, as if the soil had refused to absorb any more blood for that day.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Lieutenant Jabati, Alhaji
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 17 Quotes

At that time I didn’t think I was lucky, I thought I was brave and knew how to fight. Little did I know that surviving the war that I was in, or any other kind of war, was not a matter of feeling trained or brave.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker)
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

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None of what happened was your fault. You were just a little boy, and anytime you want to tell me anything, I am here to listen.

Related Characters: Esther (speaker), Ishmael Beah
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 20 Quotes

At the end of these long discussions our faces and eyes glittered with hope and the promise of happiness. It seemed we were transforming our suffering as we talked about ways to solve their causes and let them be known to the world.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Laura Simms, Bah, Dr. Tamba
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

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I joined the army to avenge the deaths of my family and to survive, but 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.

Related Characters: Ishmael Beah (speaker), Laura Simms, Bah, Dr. Tamba
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

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Ishmael Beah Character Timeline in A Long Way Gone

The timeline below shows where the character Ishmael Beah appears in A Long Way Gone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
The memoir opens with a short prologue. Ishmael Beah is in high school in New York City in 1998. When his classmates become curious... (full context)
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Beah then begins his story. It is 1993, he is twelve, and is leaving his hometown,... (full context)
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
The next day Beah, Junior and Talloi, who are staying at their friend’s, are surprised when their friends return... (full context)
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Beah and his friends head to the wharf, where refugees are arriving from Mogbwemo by boat,... (full context)
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Beah then remembers with great pain the last time he saw his father. Beah was about... (full context)
Children in War Theme Icon
The Horror of War Theme Icon
Companionship, Hope, and the Self Theme Icon
Guilt and Responsibility Theme Icon
...faces of the refugees and their warnings. The boys make it as far as Kabati, Beah’s grandmother’s village, which has been deserted, but what they see there makes them reconsider. A... (full context)
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To distance himself from what he has seen, Beah remembers his grandmother’s directive to “be like the moon,” as the moon always makes people... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Beah opens the second chapter as he wheelbarrows a body wrapped in a sheet through the... (full context)
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Beah gets up from the floor. He has been living in New York City for a... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...As more messengers arrive, more people go into hiding. The empty town is scary to Beah, who notices that bird and crickets won’t sing and that the moon isn’t in the... (full context)
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...The boys run for more than an hour, and on the backs of their adrenaline Beah notes that he didn’t get tired or even sweat. Junior calls out for Beah, trying... (full context)
Chapter 4
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For several days the boys continue to walk, eventually finding more survivors. Beah wants to know what his brother is thinking, but doesn’t ask. He wonders where his... (full context)
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The town appears to be abandoned, although there is a great deal of carnage. Beah vomits when he sees two male corpses with their limbs and genitals chopped off. The... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...of the boy they chased gives them each an ear of corn that night, but Beah says he felt guilty only briefly. (full context)
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...rebels are older than 21. The boys are so scared that the rebels laugh, and Beah tries not to faint. All he can think about is death. Two of the rebels... (full context)
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...A rebel announces that everyone else will be killed to make the new recruits strong. Beah looks to Junior; both of them are crying. A rebel laughs and tells the recruits... (full context)
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...heads. Then gunshots are heard from the bush, and rebels begin firing back. Everyone runs. Beah escapes, but continues to hear the cries of those who do not escape for hours... (full context)
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Beah waits in the forest for an hour, and then can hear the whispering of the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Beah explains that being in a large group of boys was not to their advantage. In... (full context)
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...no, knowing that the rebels will soon reach this village, too. They walk on, and Beah notices that the sky looks dull and that the trees sway hesitantly. In the next... (full context)
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Beah remembers when Junior tried to teach him how to skip a stone on a river.... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...last prayer of the day. When they find each other later, having escaped, Kaloko tells Beah how at the mosque, everyone realized the rebels had come into town, and so they... (full context)
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When the rebels enter the town, Beah runs from the house he is staying at for the bush, not having time to... (full context)
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...else had returned. But the village is silent, birds and crickets do not sing, and Beah is afraid of the wind. Eventually dogs come for the body of the imam. (full context)
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Beah decides to leave, finally, as he is tired of the constant danger. Kaloko decides to... (full context)
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Beah survives on cassava, until one day he is too tired and hungry, and decides to... (full context)
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After six days of walking, Beah comes in contact with a family. He tries to be friendly, but it is plain... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Beah walk for two days without sleeping, feeling not only that’s he’s being followed, but that... (full context)
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Beah, however, goes in circles. When he stops, he is haunted again by the images in... (full context)
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Beah finds some fruit he’s never seen before that birds are eating, and figures even if... (full context)
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Beah’s loneliness only gives him more time with his memories. Beah is even afraid to sleep... (full context)
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Beah gets down and continues walking in the night. He steps on a snake and then... (full context)
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Beah encounters six boys at a junction, three of whom are from Mattru Jong: Alhaji, Musa,... (full context)
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Beah knows it is unsafe to be with such a large group, but is lonely enough... (full context)
Chapter 9
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As the boys’ feet heal, Beah notices that when they talk about their past, it is only about school and soccer,... (full context)
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...out they were there, and that the boys must run. But the boys are caught. Beah tries to show the men that he means no harm by giving up and offering... (full context)
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Beah knows, as they are brought in front of the chief, that he is unlikely to... (full context)
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Beah, for once, does not enjoy the dancing. He is thinking of being thrown into the... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Beah looks upon the moon one night, noticing how it is often covered by clouds, but... (full context)
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On the other hand, Beah knows that there are the times that good things happen, and that they are kept... (full context)
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As the others boys fall asleep that night, Beah remembers how wonderful his name-giving ceremony was, how safe he felt to be welcomed into... (full context)
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Beah says that the moon followed them at night, but that it also hid at night... (full context)
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That night is too dark for Beah, ominously so, but the boys must walk on. At a bridge, they hide from some... (full context)
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...even comes and tells them that she recognizes them and has seen Junior, and that Beah’s mother and father are two days’ walk away. Beah is elated. That night they steal... (full context)
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Beah cannot believe Saidu has died. He thinks at first that he has simply fainted and... (full context)
Chapter 11
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At a banana farm, they come across a man whom Beah recognizes from Mogbwemo, Gasemu. He asks them to help carry some bananas to the village... (full context)
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...and people begin screaming. Smoke rises above the village. Gasemu tries to stop him, but Beah runs ahead to the village. The entire village is on fire, and in one house,... (full context)
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Beah runs around the village, trying to find his family, but the bodies are all too... (full context)
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Beah is enraged at Gasemu for having them stop at the top of the hill. Beah... (full context)
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The boys pin Beah to the ground and argue over whether or not it is Gasemu’s fault that they... (full context)
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Ten rebels walk into the village, none of whom are much older than Beah. The boys hide. The rebels are high-fiving one another, and one of them is carrying... (full context)
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The boys run for hours with Gasemu’s encouragement, which continues to enrage Beah. Beah says that the moon disappeared and made the sky cry, which saved him from... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The boys walk for what Beah says must have been days, when they are confronted by two men with guns. The... (full context)
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...and violence, despite it being an army base. There are over 30 orphan boys like Beah, who live in an unfinished cement house and help with the cooking. Beah tries to... (full context)
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...lieutenant, Jabati, gives a speech that the boys try to eavesdrop on unsuccessfully. Jabati sees Beah watching him, and the two talk. Jabati is reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” while the soldiers... (full context)
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That night Beah the boys don’t speak or play, and Beah cannot sleep. In the morning, they are... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...guns, as they are too heavy to carry, and in fact taller than the boys. Beah says he was never so afraid as he was that day. The soldiers form an... (full context)
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The army attacks the rebels, and a gunfight ensues. Beah is in shock and unable to fire his gun, until he sees Josiah and Musa... (full context)
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...no other crickets join in. Blood replaces the water of the swamp. After the battle, Beah kicks over bodies angrily and takes weapons and ammunition. He regrets dragging Josiah to training... (full context)
Chapter 14
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When Beah is not off fighting, he takes turns guarding the village. He regularly smokes marijuana and... (full context)
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...watch more movies, and go to villages to gather more recruits. Killing becomes easy for Beah, and he no longer thinks of death. After one fight, a prisoner spits in Lieutenant... (full context)
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...are ordered to slit the throat of a designated prisoner while Jabati times them, and Beah does so without thinking about it or feeling any compassion for the prisoner. He does... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Beah fights as a child soldier for the government for two years. He thinks of nothing... (full context)
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...and picks boys from the line without telling them what is going on. Alhaji and Beah are chosen, and only once they have turned over their guns are they told what... (full context)
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Beah is angry and shoves the city soldier who tries to search him, threatening to kill... (full context)
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As night approaches, Beah is amazed by how many lights there are in the city. The boys are brought... (full context)
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The man takes them to the kitchen, and Beah eyes the other boys suspiciously. The boys are brought rice, and Alhaji wonders where they... (full context)
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...taken to a rehabilitation house called Benin Home in Kissy Town, in east Freetown. All Beah can think about is his squad. He’d rather be high and watching war movies, and... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Beah says that the boys’ fury at the civilians was such that the boys would respond... (full context)
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...only makes the boys angrier. Another outburst, where the boys go around breaking windows, lands Beah in the hospital with a laceration on his hand, where he is treated tenderly despite... (full context)
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Beah remembers a mission while he was still in the army I which Beah and Alhaji... (full context)
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...course of their first month at Benin Home, the boys start to have horrible flashbacks. Beah sees blood whenever he turns on the faucet. The boys also start selling the school... (full context)
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...them it is not their fault, and in response the boys throw pencils at him. Beah learns to fall asleep without drugs again after a few months, but wakes up almost... (full context)
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Beah remembers that after rebels attacked and overran the base in which his squad had trained,... (full context)
Chapter 17
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A nurse named Esther comes to Beah one day a few months after he cut his hand, and gives him a cold... (full context)
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In Beah’s story, his squad is drawn into a village and ambushed. Five of their men are... (full context)
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Esther is crying because of Beah’s story. Esther makes a mistake, and tells Beah it is not his fault, making him... (full context)
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Despite Esther having said it wasn’t his fault, Beah continues to go to her, and one day he is taken into the city for... (full context)
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Beah has a new, horrible dream, in which he is surrounded in his house by men... (full context)
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Beah goes to Esther to talk about his dream, and she gets him to talk about... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Beah tells Esther one day after five months at the center that he has no family... (full context)
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Visitors from the European Commission come to see Benin Home, and during their visit Beah reads a monologue from Julius Caesar and performs a hip hop play. Mr. Kamara, the... (full context)
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Beah learns from Leslie, a staff member at Benin House, that boys at the home can... (full context)
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Beah is brought to meet his uncle’s family. He is greeted as a son by his... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Two weeks later, Beah is to begin living with his uncle. He says goodbye to his friends and Esther.... (full context)
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Beah moves in with his uncle’s family, staying in Allie’s room. He’s given a welcome home... (full context)
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Beah dates the girl briefly, after seeing her at the pub again, but feels he cannot... (full context)
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Not long after, Leslie comes to see Beah and tells him that he has an opportunity to interview for the chance to go... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Beah travels to New York with Bah, the other boy chosen to speak to the UN,... (full context)
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Beah also meets Laura Simms, a woman who works at the United Nations. She promises the... (full context)
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Laura Simms accompanies Beah, Bah, and Dr. Tamba back to the airport. The mood in the car is somber,... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Back in Sierra Leone, Beah’s childhood friend, Mohamed, who had also ended up at Benin House, has also now moved... (full context)
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...government, called Sobels, shuts down schools and even blows up bank vaults to get money. Beah says there is nothing to do but sit around, as it is too dangerous to... (full context)
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...who fails to put down the food she is carrying as they ordered her to. Beah and Mohamed try to sneak away, but get stuck in a crowd of people protesting... (full context)
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Beah’s uncle gets sick, but there is no way to get him to a doctor in... (full context)
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A week after his uncle passes away, on October 31, 1997, Beah leaves Freetown, telling only Mohamed about his plan. Beah leaves before dawn and sneaks past... (full context)
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In Conakry, Beah isn’t sure what to do next. He has no one to stay with, so he... (full context)