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Ishmael Beah

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Ishmael Beah
Beah in Cologne, Germany on 28 June 2016
Beah in Cologne, Germany on 28 June 2016
BornIshmael Beah
(1980-11-23) 23 November 1980 (age 43)
Mogbwemo, Bonthe District, Sierra Leone
Occupationauthor, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for Children Affected by War, human rights activist, former child soldier
NationalitySierra Leonean
Notable worksA Long Way Gone
Little Family
Radiance of Tomorrow
RelativesJunior Beah
Ibrahim Beah (siblings)
Priscillia Kounkou Hoveyda (wife)

Ishmael Beah (born 23 November 1980)[1] is a Sierra Leonean author and human rights activist who rose to fame with his acclaimed memoir, A Long Way Gone.[2] His novel Radiance of Tomorrow was published in January 2014.[3] His most recent novel Little Family was published in April 2020.[4]


In 1991, the Sierra Leone Civil War started. Rebels invaded Beah's hometown, Mogbwemo, located in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone, and he was forced to flee. Separated from his family, he spent months wandering south with a group of other boys. At the age of 13, he was forced to become a child soldier. According to Beah's account, he fought for almost three years before being rescued by UNICEF.[1] Beah fought for the government army against the rebels. In 1997, he fled Freetown by the help of the UNICEF due to the increasing violence and found his way to New York City, where he lived with Laura Simms, his foster mother. In New York City, Beah attended the United Nations International School. After high school, he enrolled at Oberlin College and graduated in 2004 with a degree in political science.[1]

Beah says he does not remember how many people he killed during his time in the Sierra Leonean government army. He and other soldiers smoked marijuana and sniffed amphetamines and "brown-brown", a mix of cocaine and gunpowder. He blames the addictions and the brainwashing for his violence[5] and cites them and the pressures of the army as reasons for his inability to escape on his own: "If you left, it was as good as being dead."[6]

During a 14 February 2007 appearance on The Daily Show with host Jon Stewart, Beah said that he believed that returning to civilized society was more difficult than the act of becoming a child soldier, saying that dehumanising children is a relatively easy task.[7] Rescued in 1996 by a coalition of UNICEF and NGOs, he found the transition difficult. He and his fellow child soldiers fought frequently. He credits one volunteer, Nurse Esther, with having the patience and compassion required to bring him through the difficult period. She recognized his interest in American rap music and reggae since he was a kid, gave him a Walkman and a Run DMC cassette, and employed music as his bridge to his past, prior to the violence. Slowly, he accepted her assurances that "it's not your fault."[8]

Living in Freetown with an uncle, he went to school and was invited to speak in 1996 at the UN in New York. When Freetown was overrun by the joined forces of the rebels (RUF or Revolutionary United Front) and Army of Sierra Leone in 1997 (the Army of Sierra Leone was originally fighting against the RUF), he contacted Laura Simms, whom he had met the year before in New York, and made his way to the United States.[8]

"If I choose to feel guilty for what I have done, I will want to be dead myself," Beah said. "I live knowing that I have been given a second life, and I just try to have fun, and be happy and live it the best I can."[6]

In 2009, the 29-year-old traveled home to Sierra Leone with an ABC News camera, a return that he describes as bittersweet. Later in February 2013, he traveled to Calgary and spoke at the My World Conference.[9]

In 2013, Beah married French born Congolese Iranian Priscillia Kounkou Hoveyda. They have three children and live around the world.

Awards, recognition and works[edit]

A Long Way Gone was nominated for a Quill Award in the Best Debut Author category for 2007. Time magazine's Lev Grossman named it one of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2007, ranking it at No. 3, and praising it as "painfully sharp", and its ability to take "readers behind the dead eyes of the child-soldier in a way no other writer has."[10] The book was also included in Amazon's 100 books to read in a lifetime list.[11]

With his novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, Beah explores the life of a community including Benjamin and Bockarie, two friends who return to Bockarie's hometown, Imperi, after the civil war. The village is in ruins, the ground covered in bones. Radiance of Tomorrow is said to be 'written with the moral urgency of a parable and the searing precision of a firsthand account'.[12] It earned positive reviews in the New York Times Book Review,[13] The Washington Post,[14] and the Boston Globe.[15]

On January 24, 2020, Beah spoke, together with Romeo Dallaire and Omar Khadr, at a conference at Dalhousie University, on human rights and child soldiers.[16]

In April 2020, Beah published his third book, Little Family.[17] A "deeply affecting novel",[18] Little Family tells the story of five young people living at the margins of society and struggling to replace the homes they have lost with the one they have created together.


Reporting in The Australian, a conservative Australian daily newspaper published by a subsidiary of the Murdoch-owned News Corp, called into question the accuracy of some events and the chronology in A Long Way Gone, particularly the claim that Beah became a child soldier in 1993, rather than in 1995.[19] Beah has defended his account.[citation needed] The Chief of Mattru Jong, the village in which Beah lived, confirmed Mattru Jong had been attacked. However, the Chief also stated that Mattru Jong was not attacked in 1993. Other citizens and the boarding master at Beah's school also stated the village was attacked in 1995, not 1993 as Beah claimed.

See also[edit]


  • Beah, Ishmael (2020). Little Family: A Novel. ISBN 978-0-7352-1177-3
  • Beah, Ishmael (2014). Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel. Sarah Crichton Books. ISBN 9780374246020.
  • Beah, Ishmael (2007). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Sarah Crichton Books. ISBN 978-0-374-10523-5.
  • Beah, Ishmael (2000). When Good Comes From Bad, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.


  1. ^ a b c UNICEF, Youth leadership profiles Archived 10 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine, unicef.org; retrieved 15 February 2007.
  2. ^ "Ishmael Beah – internationales literaturfestival berlin". www.literaturfestival.com. Archived from the original on 11 August 2018. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  3. ^ Hilary S. Kayle, "BEA 2013: Ishmael Beah: After War", Publishers Weekly, 30 May 2013.
  4. ^ "Little Family by Ishmael Beah: 9780735211773 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  5. ^ James Pitkin, "Ishmael Beah—An ex-child soldier's trip from Sierra Leone's war to a Starbucks bookshelf" Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Willamette Week, 14 February 2007; retrieved 15 February 2007.
  6. ^ a b Alissa Swango, NYC24, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, A Child Soldier Grows Up Archived 3 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine, 2006. Retrieved 15 February 2007.
  7. ^ The Daily Show with Jon Stewart[permanent dead link], 14 February 2007.
  8. ^ a b Gumbel, Andrew (24 January 2007). "Long march to normal life for a former child soldier". The New Zealand Herald. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  9. ^ McFadden, Cynthia, and Karson Yiu, Child Soldier's Long Way Home, ABCNews.go.com, 5 August 2008; accessed 10 December 2014.
  10. ^ Grossman, Lev (9 December 2007). "Top 10 Nonfiction Books – Top 10 Everything of 2007 – TIME". TIME.com. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007.
  11. ^ "100 Books to read in a lifetime from the Amazon Books editors". www.amazon.com. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
  12. ^ Review of Radiance of Tomorrow; accessed 10 December 2014.
  13. ^ Corbett, Sara (17 November 2014). "Sunday Book Review: A Long Way Home: Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  14. ^ Ron Charles, Review of Radiance of Tomorrow, washingtonpost.com, 31 December 2013; accessed 10 December 2014.
  15. ^ Matthew Gilbert, Review of Radiance of Tomorrow, bostonglobe.com, 6 January 2014; accessed 10 December 2014.
  16. ^ Joseph Brean (24 January 2020). "Omar Khadr to make first public appearance as keynote speaker at Dalhousie University event". National Post. Retrieved 24 January 2020. The other keynote is Ishmael Beah, 39, a former Sierra Leonean child soldier, and Dallaire will also speak, along with Shelly Whitman, an academic expert on children in armed conflict.
  17. ^ "Little Family By Ishmael Beah". Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  18. ^ "Ishmael Beah's memoir revealed the realities of child soldiers. His fiction shows the humanity of homeless kids". The Washington Post. Retrieved 28 April 2023.
  19. ^ Sherman, Gabriel, "The Fog of Memoir: The feud over the truthfulness of Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone", slate.com, 2008; accessed 10 December 2014.

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