Neither Side Backing Down in Ishmael Beah Memoir Dispute

by Staff

Five days after a newspaper in Australia published a report challenging the accuracy of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Sara Crichton Books, 2007) by Ishmael Beah, neither side is backing down; both the author and his publisher have issued statements defending the book while the Australian stands by its claims.

On Tuesday, Beah issued a statement denying accusations that he misrepresented his experiences as a child who was forced to fight in the Sierra Leone army. "I was right about my family. I am right about my story," he wrote. "This is not something one gets wrong. The Australian’s reporters have been calling my college professors, asking if I 'embellished' my story. They published my adoptive mother’s address, so she now receives ugly threats. They have used innuendo against me when there is no fact. Though apparently, they believe anything they are told—unless it comes from me or supports my account. Sad to say, my story is all true." (For the full statement, visit the author's Web site.)

The Australian issued a response to Beah's defense yesterday, saying that the author's statement contains further factual errors. Among them is Beah's assertion that the newspaper published his mother's address. "The Australian did not and would not publish the address of his adoptive mother, Laura Simms. Instead it named her Web site...through which she promotes her work as a storyteller." (For the full statement, visit the Australian's Web site.)

Publishers Weekly reported yesterday afternoon that Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the publisher whose imprint released the memoir, issued the following statement, which will appear on Beah's Web site:

Peter Wilson of the Australian has asked us to point out that the Australian did not publish Ishmael Beah’s adoptive mother’s “address,” but her Internet address. Also, although Mr. Barry is referred to in the 1/19 Australian article as the “principal” of the secondary school Beah and his older brother had attended, Wilson later states in that article that Mr. Barry was only promoted to principal in 2002, and in subsequent articles Mr. Barry is referred to as both “boarding master” and “teacher,” but not as “head” of the school at the time Beah attended. Wilson also included a quote from an interview with Leslie Mboka in his 1/21 article in the Australian: “Leslie Mboka, the first social worker to meet Beah in a rehabilitation camp for former child soldiers in early 1996, said the book accurately recounted Mr. Mboka’s experiences with Beah in Freetown but ‘he was a young child who had been through terrible things so he could easily have got things mixed up.’”