Tuesday, February 12, 2008

More on Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone

In January I wrote about what was being reported in the Australian news media about Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone. Apparently questions had arisen as to the accuracy of his memories of life as a teenage soldier in Sierra Leone.

You can read more about this at newsvine.com. I think this article by Hillel Italie says it best:
Memoirs, of course, are a famously imperfect art form. Inaccuracies and omissions appear in classics by Henry Adams and Benjamin Franklin and countless other works. While few are reduced to proven deceit, such as James Frey's "A Million Little Pieces," even the best books are only as reliable as memory itself.
Who among us can accurately remember events that occurred when we were children — much less in the environment of being trained to be a mercenary killer? I can't even imagine what that would be like.

Thus, this title remains one of my most memorable books from 2007.


Anonymous said...

Beah's book is still of obvious interest - but it is worth getting the facts straight because he has often claimed to have a perfect photographic memory. Many more people are likely to see him on television and other media that will actually read his book (even though it is selling so strongly), and those media appearances give the impression that a child can both experience and inflict extreme trauma, and yet emerge as a personable and apparently fairly intact adult. If his book is the product of fractured memory, then it would indicate both that his trauma, extreme as it was, was less prolonged and at a more advanced age than has been experienced by many other children in war zones (children whose level of damage is similarly more extreme). It would also indicate that he is, perhaps, less intact than the stories about perfect photographic recall would indicate. Knowing both of those things tells us something important about the effect of war trauma on children and gives us a better sense of the level of damage caused.