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Keir Graff and editors from Booklist's adult and youth departments write candidly about books, book reviewing, and the publishing industry

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008 11:26 am
Think Twice before Taking on the Australian Press
Posted by: Keir Graff

The Australian reports more recent developments in the Ishmael Beah (Long Way Gone, 2006) controversy.

US critics ‘wanted to believe’ child soldier’s tale,” by David Nason:

THE US literary establishment gave former Sierra Leone child soldier Ishmael Beah a “free pass” on the accuracy of his international bestselling memoir A Long Way Gone because it wanted to believe his story was true, according to a US author and book critic.

Deadly fight Beah describes ‘didn’t happen’,” by Peter Wilson:

RELIEF workers from Sierra Leone and international agencies have cast further doubt on best-selling author Ishmael Beah’s account ofhis time as a child soldier, saying they can find no evidence ofadeadly fight that he claims took place in a rehabilitation camp in 1996.

Those who’ve been following this story on other blogs (this was a link in previous comments) know that Dan Chaon has said that he was “radically misquoted.” Shelley Gare of the The Australian writes that colleague David Nason has sent a transcript of¬†his interview¬†with Chaon to Chaon and asked him to explain how he was misquoted. It will be interesting to see if they publish their transcript–especially interesting if they include the audio.

Well, I’m with the reviewers who wanted the story to be true, because the child-soldier tragedy certainly doesn’t need this kind of negative publicity. But since book reviewers don’t necessarily have the time or training to do fact-checking, I think of reporters as part of a useful system of checks and balances. A sad story in all ways, but it’s worth knowing what really happened.

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