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Memoir:A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah Assignment and Quiz

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Read the excerpt below from A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and answer the question that follows.



"You were negative nineteen years old." That's what my father used to say when I would ask about what life was like in Sierra Leone following independence in 1961. It had been a British colony since 1808. Sir Milton Margai became the first prime minister and ruled the country under the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) political banner until his death in 1964. His half brother Sir Albert Margai succeeded him until 1967, when Siaka Stevens, the All People's Congress (APC) Party leader, won the election, which was followed by a military coup. Siaka Stevens returned to power in 1968, and several years later declared the country a one-party state, the APC being the sole legal party. It was the beginning of "rotten politics," as my father would put it. I wondered what he would say about the war that I was now running from. I had heard from adults that this was a revolutionary war, a liberation of the people from corrupt government. But what kind of liberation movement shoots innocent civilians, children, that little girl? There wasn't anyone to answer these questions, and my head felt heavy with the images that it contained. As we walked, I became afraid of the road, the mountains in the distance, and the bushes on either side.



When does this flashback occur in the plot of A Long Way Gone? In a short-answer response, analyze why Beah chose to provide this flashback at that particular moment in the story.
Read the excerpt below from A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and answer the question that follows.



Just three days earlier, I had seen my father walking slowly from work. His hard hat was under his arm and his long face was sweating from the hot afternoon sun. I was sitting on the verandah. I had not seen him for a while, as another stepmother had destroyed our relationship again. But that morning my father smiled at me as he came up the steps. He examined my face, and his lips were about to utter something, when my stepmother came out. He looked away, then at my stepmother, who pretended not to see me. They quietly went into the parlor. I held back my tears and left the verandah to meet with Junior at the junction where we waited for the lorry. We were on our way to see our mother in the next town about three miles away. When our father had paid for our school, we had seen her on weekends over the holidays when we were back home. Now that he refused to pay, we visited her every two or three days. That afternoon we met Mother at the market and walked with her as she purchased ingredients to cook for us. Her face was dull at first, but as soon as she hugged us, she brightened up. She told us that our little brother, Ibrahim, was at school and that we would go get him on our way from the market. She held our hands as we walked, and every so often she would turn around as if to see whether we were still with her.



How does the setting in the excerpt support Beah's characterization?
Beah begins the story by describing the beginning of the civil war and his experience of it. He was ten when the war began, and his life was relatively unaffected. Sure, he read about it and watched the war through the news, but it was something that was happening far away from his peaceful life. Then, the refugees began pouring into Mogbwemo from other towns. But even then the war seemed unreal. The stories of the refugees were too terrible to seem real. Then, Beah flashes forward to January 1993. He's twelve, has an active social life, and is obsessed with rap music and dance. He sets out with his friends and brother to visit friends in Mattru Jong, and they stop to visit his grandmother in Kabati on the way. After finally reaching Mattru Jong, he learns shortly afterward that rebels have attacked his home, Mogbwemo. It is only after the attack that Beah reveals why the boys are not in school and that Beah's parents were divorced. During a flashback, we learn of the last time Beah and Junior see their father and mother. The parting is sad, part of a long saga of family issues and strife. We're reminded that these issues may never be resolved when the plot returns to the story line. The boys quickly return to Kabati, where they wait in their grandmother's village while survivors from Mogbwemo trickle in. The horrible state of the victims shocks the boys, and they realize that nothing is left in Mogbwemo. Again, Beah allows us a brief reprieve from the sickening events with a flashback; this time Beah remembers speaking to his father about the political explanations of war and corruption. Beah wonders if there could be a reason for all this killing. The boys end the story back in Mattru Jong, singing along to rap songs on the cassettes they carried in their bags when the left home. Beah copes with the situation with one more flashback, this time to a peaceful, happy Kabati before the war arrived.

I think that Beah creatively gives us details about his life as they become important and not a moment too soon. His father's silence, stepmother's arrogance, and his mother's grief are more emotional after the reader realizes that they may never get the chance to fix their family. In the midst of everyday life—strife, hobbies, and friends—war ends everything. The flashback to Beah's father explaining the reasons for war seem a bit forced. It's hard to believe that a thirteen-year-old took the time to think about the Sierra Leone independence in the midst of such a precarious present. The last flashback, however, is touching. When Beah remembers his grandmother and the peace of the village, the reader is reminded of how much has been destroyed and can never be recovered.