The accuracy of former child soldier Ishmael Beah’s bestselling book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier has been called into question by The Australian newspaper. An article published in the paper recently claims that Beah’s ordeal in Sierra Leone lasted one year, not three, as the memoir recounts. Leah—now 27-years-old, living in New York, and UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War—has issued a statement defending his claims. He says that rebels first attacked his village in 1993—not 1995, as the newspaper seems to believe.
What the commentators said
This is “very precarious territory,” said Meidabistro.com’s blog Galleycat, “given the pressures that the scandal over James Frey’s faulty chronologies and exaggerations have placed on all memoirists who came after him.” But still, “it’s pretty clear that whatever the literal historical truth is, Beah went through a unique level of hell that many will be loath to diminish.”
“Almost more interesting than the questions of the accuracy of Beah’s account,” said the Literary Saloon blog, “are the reactions of those making their money off him and the book.” They seem to be scrambling to defend him. “It’ll be interesting what those with closer industry ties will be able to root out in the coming week.”
This whole controversy “tells us a lot about story-telling and modern publishing,” said Shelly Gare, Peter Wilson, and David Nason in The Australian. And “about the Western world’s hunger for stories of terror and exploitation from the undeveloped world.” It also raises “questions about the way Ismael Beah’s book came about and how thoroughly his story was checked out.”