Study Guide

Uncle Tommy & Family in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

By Ishmael Beah

Uncle Tommy & Family

When Ishmael needs a place to stay after leaving the rehabilitation center, Leslie is able to track down his Uncle Tommy to take him in. Even though Ishmael has never met his father's brother the guy welcomes him with opens arms:

He bent over and embraced me long and hard. My arms hung loose at my sides.

What if he is just some man pretending to be my uncle? I thought. The man let go of me. He was crying, which is when I began to believe that he was really my family, because his crying was genuine and men in my culture rarely cried.

He crouched on his heels next to me and began, "I am sorry I never came to see you all those years. I wish I had met you before today. But we can't go back now. We just have to start from here. I am sorry for your losses. Leslie told me everything." He looked at Leslie with thankful eyes and continued, "After you are done here, you can come and live with me. You are my son. I don't have much, but I will give you a place to sleep, food, and my love." He put his arms around me. (18.38-40)

And it's not only Uncle Tommy who adores Ishmael—his whole family does, too. His wife (Aunt Sallay) keeps bringing Ishmael food and smiling at him. His cousins (Allie, Matilda, Kona, and Sombo) welcome him like a brother. Allie even takes Ishmael out clubbing, which is sort of awkward because Ishmael starts to remember the time he and some other soldiers attacked a school dance. But otherwise, it's a good night.

Meeting Uncle Tommy and his family is yet another step on Ishmael's road to recovery. They agree to live with him even knowing his background as a child soldier and they never judge him for what he was forced to do during the war. Without their unconditional love, who knows what might have happened to Ishmael? He might have ended up like his friend, Mambu, who had to go back to fighting because he had no family to take him in.

Eventually, Uncle Tommy gets sick and dies and that's when Ishmael knows it's time to make a break for it. He loves the rest of his family, but with Uncle Tommy gone, he knows that living in Freetown has become even more dangerous for him. Leaving the only family he knows in the world is a big risk, but Ishmael has to take it in order to be safe.