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Call me Ishmael, but don't call me a liar

The war of words continues in the ongoing saga of Ishmael Beah, whose memoir A Long Way Gone Beah traces his life  from peaceful days with his family in a small African village to his conscription as a child soldier in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. According to PW Daily, an Australian newspaper raised questions about some of the dates in the book, saying that if Beah was indeed wrong about them, he was only in the army for two or three months, instead of the two or three years detailed in his memoir.

Beah, says PW Daily, has issued a statement defending the dates in his book, offering as proof two other Sierra Leoneans to support his version of the events. He also talks about a lengthy back-and-forth discussion with reporters for The Australian, who found a man who claimed to be Beah's father, who was supposed to be dead, according to the memoir.  The guy was not Beah's dad, as it turns out. "I was right about my family. I am right about my story," Beah wrote in a press release sent out by his publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux. "Sad to say, my story is all true."

I guess I wonder: Does it matter if he was in the army killing people for a few months or a few years? Either way it would scar a child forever, I would think. Or is that simply too much poetic license for a writer to take?

A Long Way Gone has sold around 700,000 copies in hardback, according to FSG and PW. A paperback edition is due out in early August; it should see excellent sales because the subject matter makes it a natural for book clubs.


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