One-Minute Book Reviews

February 12, 2008

Ishmael Beah Says He Was Shot ‘Three Times on My Left Foot’ But Suffered No Serious Damage — Can Any Soldiers, E.R. Doctors or Others Explain This?

Another scene I don’t understand from the memoir of the man who claims to have been a child soldier

On this site I try to keep reviews short enough that you can read them in a minute if you skip the supplemental material at the end, so I’ll often give one example instead of three or choose a brief quote from a book instead of a long one. But enough questions have been raised about the credibility of Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone that I’d like to mention a scene from it that didn’t appear in my original review. In this scene Beah talks about continuing to fight after receiving “many bullet wounds” and about foot injuries don’t appear to have left him with a limp or a need to use a cane.

Beah’s account of his injuries seemed implausible, but I don’t have a medical or military background. Would anyone with expertise in such fields like to comment on the following?

Ishmael Beah says in A Long Way Gone that he received “many bullet wounds” in a firefight in Sierra Leone but kept attacking a village his squad was trying to take. He adds that after 24 hours, he and his fellow soldiers seemed to have achieved their aim.

Then they were attacked again, and he was hit three times in the left foot: “The first two bullets went in and out, and the last one stayed inside my foot.” The third bullet, he says, was later removed with “crooked-looking scissors” by a “sergeant doctor” in the Sierra Leone army at a base camp. After leaving the army, Beah entered a hospital and was told that medical tests showed that nothing was “seriously wrong” and he would just have to take medications until his next checkup.

Quotes from pages 156–158 and 163.

Links: The original review of A Long Way Gone appeared on this site on Feb. 27, 2007. A reading group guide was posted on March 5, 2007

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I never thought I’d be leaving this information on the Internet for the whole wide world to read, Janice, but here goes. Although it’s been eons ago, I worked as the right-hand (wo)man of the Physical Therapy Director, Mr. Z, at Yale-New Haven Hospital and saw my share of gross wounds from horrific accidents, but the following comments, I’m sorry to say, are from first hand experience close to home. About 8 years ago my husband accidentally shot himself in the left hand while cleaning his 45 cal revolver. It left a gaping hole about the size of a quarter in the palm of his hand and blew off part of the outer side of the hand. There were strings of torn flesh and whatnot hanging down from the hand. The doctors at the hospital couldn’t believe that there was no major damage to his hand. Initially, he had no feeling in his little and ring fingers that he was told might never improve. He had about 70+ stitches and he underwent physical therapy for months. The side of his hand had a chunk missing and looked like a bite of flesh had been taken out. At the time of his accident, I was working at a ministry and we prayed his hand back to perfect health. It took almost a year for it to recover and he was in great pain. Today, one has to look very closely at his hand to even see a scar there. The hole closed in. The side fleshed out and looks normal. He only has a tiny bit of numbness in his little finger. So, yes, based on my husband’s experience, it’s possible there was no permanent damage to the fella’s foot, although there *is* quite a difference between being shot once versus 3 times in the same area. A number of years after my husband’s accident, we found out that the younger doctors who saw my husband’s hand couldn’t believe the bullet missed all the majors of the hand. They called it a miracle.

    Oh, and one last thing. Call it a public service announcement, if you will. My husband is an ex- Army Major with many years of experience with guns and rifles, Winter Ranger and helicopter pilot, to boot. Just saying, so you don’t think he’s a doofus. He made a dumb mistake and forgot to check the chamber. But we like to blame it on the fact he had taken my car keys to move my car out of the way while mowing our lawn earlier in the day. Apparently he dropped my keys in the grass, and ran over them with the tractor. When he realized what he had done, he got down in the grass to gather the pieces and got his hands covered with the broken Mace canister that hung on my key chain. He managed to get his hands all over his face while brushing sweat away. Needless to say, he was really agitated and compromised for the rest of the day. He shouldn’t have cleaned his gun under those conditions. But, try to tell a man he may not be clear-thinking after tangling with Mace….uh huh.

    He likes to boast that he “shot the bastard who did that to me!”

    Comment by janetleigh — February 12, 2008 @ 7:42 pm | Reply

  2. What an amazing story! It must have been beyond traumatic — for you as for your husband — and it is heartening to hear that he is fine now.

    Strangely enough, if Beah had gone into as much detail, his story might be easier to believe. He tells you how the doctor supposedly removed the one bullet in his foot. But he doesn’t explain how two other two bullets could pass all the way through and do no lasting damage. Thanks so much for explaining what happened …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 12, 2008 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

  3. “He tells you how the doctor supposedly removed the one bullet in his foot. But he doesn’t explain how two other two bullets could pass all the way through and do no lasting damage. Thanks so much for explaining what happened …”

    Well, that being said, my husband’s bullet passed all the way through his hand, made a mess of it, but didn’t do any “lasting damage”. Of course, one couldn’t say there was “no damage” right after he shot himself. His hand looked like it went through a meat grinder. So, one could assume in the Beah case, if the trajectory was optimum, 2 bullets could pass through his foot and do no lasting damage because the hole just fills itself in, so to speak. I believe a pass-through is preferable to one that’s embedded. It acts like a foreign object and may shift around enlarging the area. You could look at it this way; an arrow shot straight through would be preferable to one that’s stuck in you, abutting a bone and needs to be snapped off, right?

    The accident was very traumatic, Janice. I was in the house and he was in our workshop (he also builds machines for automation, from scratch to finished product). There’s nothing like hearing a gunshot out of the blue. You know it’s a sound you should *not* be hearing, so you automatically go into panic mode. Silence was followed by screaming what I thought to be “OMG, I just shot myself in the head!” I have a slight hearing problem and thought I heard head, rather than hand. I wasn’t prepared to deal with a head wound, so it was rather fortunate for me that it was his hand.

    This incident is just one of a number of “mishaps” I’ve lived through with this man. I can laugh now over most of them, but shooting himself is not one of them.

    Comment by janetleigh — February 12, 2008 @ 9:41 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Janice. Have you read the latest addition to Beah’s Wikipedia entry? It purports to be a ‘detailed examination of the Australian’s allegations’. It contains many errors of spelling and punctuation which distract somewhat from the attempt at scholarly analysis.

    Overall, the entry is supportive of Beah. It characterises (and seems to excuse) many of Beah’s tales of his time as a child soldier as ‘child-like fantasies’. It also seems to suggest that the confusion over time-lines is caused by Peter Wilson’s (and Beah’s publisher’s) misreading of the book. I would be interested to know what you think of this.

    Comment by jasperpin — February 13, 2008 @ 12:55 am | Reply

  5. Wasn’t that one of the most bizarre Wikipedia entries you’ve ever seen? The entry on Beah is nearly subliterate. And it has clearly been subject to fierce, dueling editing since it went up. I would have linked to it but can’t believe it will stay up for long; it’s so far below the level of most other Wikipedia entries.

    The weird comment that some scenes are “child-like fantasies” is a perfect example. “A Long Way Gone” is supposed to be nonfiction. And Wikipedia is allowing someone to say that the scenes are “fantasies”? The comment hardly meets the Wikipedia tests of neutrality and accuracy. Those scenes certainly aren’t presented as “child-like fantasies” in the book. They’re presented as fact. And it’s incredibly revealing that somebody would try to justify them in that way.

    You REALLY have to wonder who has edited that entry. A part of me thinks that if someone could just find out who wrote that stuff, it would blow the Beah story wide open. I haven’t seen any articles in newspapers or elsewhere on Beah’s entry, but they’ve got to be coming. And I’d love to know if you see any, because there may be more posts in this. More on this in another response to you very soon.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 13, 2008 @ 2:33 am | Reply

  6. More for Jasperpin: Have you considered getting in touch with the Australian if you see weird things in the Beah entry on Wikipedia?

    The team that’s writing about “A Long Way Gone” (Shelley Gare, Peter Wilson and Dave Nason) must check Wikipedia from time to time. But the entry on Beah seems to change so fast that any journalist who’s covering the story could miss a significant change. Here’s a link the contact page for the Australian The page has an e-mail address for Peter Wilson and may have one for Shelley Gare that I couldn’t find.

    If you notice strange things happening to the Beah listing, you’re also welcome to keep adding comments to this post (even if they don’t relate to what I’ve written) just to make them part of the public record. Because anybody can make changes on Wikipedia, there seems to be a risk that a helpful digital footprint could get lost. I am just fascinated by what’s going on here.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — February 13, 2008 @ 3:45 am | Reply

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