Last weekend an article was written in the Australian claiming that Ishmael Beah may have gotten the dates and length of the time spent as a child soldier wrong. Supposedly, the attack that separated Ishmael from his family happened in 1995 and not in ’93 and he may have spent 2months fighting in the army instead of 2 years. It also means that he was 15years old and not 13 during the period in question. Someone posted a comment on my blog calling Ishmael a ‘fraud’ and several other individuals have made similar comments on the Global Voices Online discussion of A Long Way Gone.
Do I think he’s a fraud? Does it matter that it was 2months instead of 2 years? Would my perception of the book be different if I had read the story as having happened to a 15 year old boy in 1995 for 2months?
Ishmael Beah’s “A Long Way Gone” will now and always serve as a testimony of children caught the world over in civil conflicts; victims and perpetrators of violence. Ishmael will always be a hero for surviving his ordeal and living and learning to write about it. There are those who may feel as though they’ve been duped by Ishmael, his mother, and his publishers. But the question remains to be answered as to whether he intentionally misled his readers or if he simply got it all mixed up in the effort to remember and forget his past. I have met Ishmael, listened to him, talked to him and laughed with him and I believe every word of his story and I do not think that he would lie or mislead anyone intentionally
I wonder if Africans who have read the book (especially Sierra Leoneans) will feel as troubled by the question of dates as by others. Culturally, our relationship to time is different from western notions of time. This unique relationship to time affects the way we tell stories and the way we remember things. While Westerners are likely to refer to the year something happened and then the event, for us the focus is usually on the event itself. Time alone is not important….Events make time important. I am not saying that Ishmael or Africans for that matter do not understand or subscribe to established standards of time rather, that the focus for me is more so on what happened to Ishmael and how it happened.
Clearly, his publishers could have done more research to make sure that the dates in A Long Way Gone were in sync with public records of events in Sierra Leone. That information is easy to be culled as proven by the contributors/writers of the article in the Australian. Granted we do not know for certain if their sources are legitimate, and if they are enough to disprove Ishmael’s memory of the dates. Personally, I think that who ever and for what ever reason, some people do not want to believe that Ishmael Beah is capable of writing his book, being so articulate, after having experienced such an ordeal. The truth however, is that Ishmael is capable.
Why did the publishers not go through the trouble of finding out???....Maybe they thought, “another African memoir of war…Oh well, get it out soon as possible.”
Regardless of what you might think of this time controversy, the book is still amazingly brilliant. Ishmael Beah is a survivor and a great writer!
A part of me wishes his ordeal was just for two months….But then again “2 months” can also seem like two years when everyday is filled with brutality, isolation, loss, and violence.
ISHMAEL DEFENDS HIMSELF AGAINST RUMORS & ACCUSATIONS