The Australian newspaper has reportedly uncovered another case of an author stretching the truth and passing it off as fact.

The controversy centres around Ishmael Beah’s memoir of his time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone. In the book Beah tells of his years spent fighting in the civil war from the age of 13. Investigations by The Australian alledge that Beah didn’t join the army until he was 15, meaning his account of his time as a refugee and then a solider was actually only 12 months, rather than the 3 years he suggests.

The book has sold more than 650,000 copies to date helped by a Starbucks promotional campaign and has been widely praised.

Beah and his US publisher are standing by the book, with Beah insisting in a letter to the editor of The Australian, "I am right about the dates. This is not something one gets wrong".

The acadamic who helped with the first draft, suggests that any flaws should be put down to poetic license: "If it turns out there are factual errors, I wouldn’t necessarily be all that concerned about it," said Professor Chaon of Ohio’s Oberlin College. "I don’t think the book is being presented as a piece of journalism. It’s being presented as a memoir."

It makes for interesting reading though with accusation and counter-accusation a-plenty. Read the original story from The Australian plus some international comment from The Guardian UK.

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5 Responses to “Ishmael Beah’s memoir, ‘A Long Way Gone’ not factually correct?”

  1. Detmar Stone,

    Fascinating stuff. I may have another story for you all – when I read the Ishamel Beah I couldn’t help but be reminded of a novel I read called MOSES CITIZEN AND ME by a Sierra Leonean writer named Delia Jarrett Macauley. The Jarrett was published in 2003 (or maybe 2004 and was again all about child soldiers etc). But the really weird thing, though, is that the Jarrett had a Shakespeare-spouting and performing field guerrilla commander in it and when I then read the Ishmael Beah there’s what looks like exactly the same character! I mean how many Shakespeare-performing guerrillas were there out there in the wars then, let alone guerrillas performing the same plays to child soldiers….. SPOOKY or what? What do you all think? As I say, the Jarrett is a novela nd was publsiehd quite a bit earlier than the Beah though. Detmar Stone, Pynjarra, NSW

  2. Anselm,

    Not just Shakespere. Isnt it interesting that Beah’s so called ”adoptive mother” is a writer of fiction, and that the two largest portions of his book (before and after the apparent time he spent in the militia)…leaving only a small section of the book for the core subject matter when he claims to have been a child soldier. This guy really gets to me. Here he is speaking on behalf of others for the UN, and setting up a foundation bearing his own name. Why doesn’t someone pull the plug on this fraud…

  3. The OTHER Book About Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone « One-Minute Book Reviews,

    […] There’s more about Moses, Citizen and Me on the site for Granta and on that of Jarrett-Macauley, who lives in England and is the daughter of Sierra Leonean parents. You can read an interview with her on Bookslut at And here’s where you’ll find Stone’s comments on Speakeasy […]

  4. Janice Harayda,

    A Sierra Leonean magazine, Sierra Eye, has published an investigative report on Ishmael Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” that shows how right reporters for the Australian were to question claims in the book.

    As far as I know, the Sierra Eye report is the first serious exploration of the claims in the book by a journalist in Sierra Leone. The team that wrote the stories on “A Long Way Gone” for the Australian (Shelley Gare, David Nason, and Peter Wilson) have received far less support from the international media (particularly from the American media) than they deserve.

    So it would be great if you could mention that they have at last gotten support from Sierra Leone. If you can’t, maybe you know of others who could and could copy this message for them?

    I’ve written about the Sierra Eye report on One-Minute Book Reviews, and mentioned the Australian’s series, but Wikipedia also has information (for however long it stays up).

  5. Josie Young,

    I think you have all missed the point.

    It doesn’t matter if Ishmael was a soldier for 12 months, 3 years or even 2 weeks! The point is:

    Around 300,000 children are fighting in adults battles around the world today. The majority of these children are in Africa. Many are in Sierra Leone.

    Every day children are murdered, tortured, raped, and left homeless, afraid and vulnerable.

    Thanks to Ishmael Beah, thousands of people who were not aware of the issue of child soldiers have been forced to sit up and pay attention.

    Some one has to fight for these children, some one has to speak for them. Ishmael has dedicated his life to doing this.

    So, hold your criticisms and think for the moment about what you are doing – you are trying to weaken one of the few people able to advocate for these children of war.

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