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Thursday, January 24, 2008 1:28 pm
The Australian: Beah’s Statement “Seriously Flawed”
Posted by: Keir Graff

Peter Wilson and Shelley Gare of The Australian have published a point-by-point rebuttal (“Response to author, publisher claims“) to Ishmael Beah’s rebuttal:

Author Ishmael Beah and his publisher Farrar Straus & Giroux have attempted to refute The Australian’s disclosure of major factual errors in his best-selling book “A Long Way Gone.”

But a statement issued by them on Tuesday January 22, which has appeared on various websites  www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6524214.html%5E contained several further errors of fact and did not acknowledge that Beah’s account of his time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone is seriously  flawed.

Furthermore, they say, Ishmael Beah may not even have been a child soldier at all, technically speaking:

That means Beah was a refugee and then child soldier for a combined period of one year, not the three years that he describes in his book. Instead of being a child soldier for two years from the age of 13 he may for instance have been one for two months at 15, which at that time would have been too old to be technically considered a “child soldier” under UN provisions outlawing the use of under-age combatants.

One wonders, of course, how the UN could have arrived at the age of 15 as a cut-off. (An optional protocol that came into “effect” in 2002 raises the age to 18.)

Wilson and Gare continue to acknowledge Beah’s “terrible ordeal.” Now that their own reporting has been attacked, well, you can tell that they’re frustrated. If they’re right on the details–and they certainly cite their sources in a more convincing manner–then it seems the best route would have been for Beah and his publisher to admit that some license was taken in the storytelling, and that, given the author’s youth and traumatic experiences, mistakes were understandably made. Given the subject’s horrors, I think the public would be forgiving.

But with both parties standing their ground, what happens next?

Update: More from FSG.

One Response to “The Australian: Beah’s Statement “Seriously Flawed””
  1. Book Blog - Likely Stories, by Keir Graff - Booklist Online » Blog Archive » Cartographical Errors in Long Way Gone? Says:

    [...] More on the Ishmael Beah controversy in The Australian. Another former child soldier, Kabba Williams, has questioned Beah’s account of events (”Child soldier questions Beah’s tale,” by Peter Wilson): “That is not true … 1995 was the period when Ishmael got involved in the conflict,” Mr Williams told The Australian in a telephone interview yesterday. [...]


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