By January 23, 2008 4 Comments Read More →

Ishmael Beah: "my story is all true"

As an update on yesterday’s post about Ishmael Beah, the author has unequivocally declared that his facts are correct. Publishers Weekly (“Ishmael Beah Takes Public Stand,” by Michael Coffey) reprints the full press release from his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The war in Sierra Leone began in 1991. My story, as I remember it and wrote it, began in 1993 when rebels "attacked the mining areas" (my words from the book) in my village while I was away with friends. I never saw my family again. The Australian, presumably, is basing their defamation of me on reports that the Sierra Rutile Mine was closed down by rebels in 1995. But there were rebels in my region, my village, and my life in 1993. They attacked throughout 1993 and 1994 before closing down the mine.

I was right about my family. I am right about my story. 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. 

The tone of the Australian articles struck me as being far more gentle than “defamation,” but this impassioned response will certainly make some people wonder whether the reporters have made a sad story even sadder by quibbling over details. On the other hand, good reporters dig for truth, no matter where it takes them–and there’s no denying that Beah’s book is newsworthy.

It is interesting that Beah’s rebuttal doesn’t really give himself any wiggle room–which, if he was aware of any inaccuracy, might be the logical route. So, either he’s completely right, or he believes he’s completely right, or…he’s not going to admit that he’s not completely right. I’ll be curious how this one plays out.

(Odd thought: Isn’t it interesting that we want writers’ tales of woe to be true, even if it means that the writer suffered? That is–purely hypothetical, wild leap here–if Beah somehow turned out to be a middle-class kid who had made all of this up, we’d feel let down, maybe even angry that he hadn’t suffered the misery he’d written about. And would we feel that way because he was getting the world’s sympathy while others truly suffered–or would we just be mad at having been duped? One point of view might be that we should be grateful every time a sad story isn’t true, or isn’t quite as sad as we thought, or didn’t last as long as stated. And if I adopt that point of view, does that mean I forgive James Frey for not having suffered more?)

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

4 Comments on "Ishmael Beah: "my story is all true""

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  1. sgare@ozemail.com.au' Shelley Gare says:

    Hi, saw your very intelligent pieces on our reporting and this whole, delicate issue. Send me the appropriate email and I’ll send you the statement that Peter Wilson and I put out in response to Beah’s release via FSG. It’s also on the newspaper’s website. See above. best wishes, Shelley Gare

  2. andrewdn@esc.net.au' Dominic says:

    why doesn’t someone pull the plug on this man, Beah???

  3. Keir says:

    What exactly do you mean by “pull the plug”? I sincerely hope you’re only referring to his time in the spotlight. It seems to me that he’s made some mistakes, but given his background, they’re forgivable. He does seem unlikely to admit making any mistakes, however.

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