In Ishmael Beah’s Little Family, Sierra Leonean Kids Seek a Home

The activist and writer’s second novel is “a profound and tender portrayal of the connections we forge to survive the fate we’re dealt.”
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Ishmael Beah's Little Family. Photo by

Ishmael Beah's Little Family. Photo by

Ishamel Beah’s second novel Little Family is the story of five young people without homes who band together as a family of their own. It follows the orphans as they deal with being abandoned by the government and society. The novel was released last April.

Here is a synopsis from its publisher, Riverhead Books:

Hidden away from a harsh outside world, five young people have improvised a home in an abandoned airplane, a relic of their country’s tumultuous past. Elimane, the bookworm, is as street-smart as he is wise. Clever Khoudiemata maneuvers to keep the younger kids—athletic, pragmatic Ndevui, thoughtful Kpindi, and especially their newest member, Namsa—safe and fed.

When Elimane makes himself of service to the shadowy William Handkerchief, it seems as if the little family may be able to keep the world at bay and their household intact. But when Khoudi comes under the spell of the “beautiful people”—the fortunate sons and daughters of the elite—the desire to resume an interrupted coming of age and follow her own destiny proves impossible to resist.

A profound and tender portrayal of the connections we forge to survive the fate we’re dealt, Little Family marks the further blossoming of a unique global voice.

The Washington Post describes the novel as an “empathy-expanding story without the heavy gears of polemical fiction.” It continues, “In a sense, Beah has written an African social novel that complements earlier novels by Dickens and Twain, but he conveys his unsettling assessment with a more delicate balance of tenderness and dread.”

Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “Unflinching and unadorned. . . an indelible portrait of desperate survival.” 

Ishmael Beah. Photo from
Ishmael Beah. Photo from

Ishmael Beah is a Sierra Leonean human rights activist and author. His memoir A Long Way Gone was published in February 2007, in over 40 languages, and was nominated for a Quill Award in the Best Debut Author category for 2007. Time Magazine named the book as one of the Top 10 Nonfiction books of 2007. His novel Radiance of Tomorrow was published in January 2014. 

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Little Family, wrote The New York Times Book Review, is a “testament to Beah’s confidence as a writer and a remarkable storyteller.”

Paula Willie-Okafor
Paula Willie-Okafor is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. She is a student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she is custodian of The Writers' Community (TWC). Her writing has appeared in Kissing Dynamite Magazine and Praxis Magazine.

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