One-Minute Book Reviews

March 19, 2008

Ishmael Beah’s Story ‘Threatens to Blow Into a Million Little Pieces,’ Cover Story in the Village Voice Says

Filed under: News,Newspapers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Graham Rayman has a wonderful cover story in the new issue of the Village Voice on the escalating controversy about the credibility of A Long Way Gone. Rayman’s article is by far the best by an American reporter on the bestseller by Ishmael Beah, who claims to have been a boy soldier in Sierra Leone for more than two years,boy_soldier,381308,1.html.

The Voice story (in which I am quoted) includes a fascinating interview with Neil Boothby, an expert on children and war at Columbia University who has worked with young refugees in Darfur, Rwanda and elsewhere.

Boothby told Rayman that he had avoided commenting on A Long Way Gone because he saw Beah as a courageous spokesman and didn’t want to undermine any “human-rights momentum” the book generated. Nonetheless, Boothby said:

“I think what [Beah] has done is meet with UNICEF, journalists, and others, and he told stories, and people responded to certain stories enthusiastically. That has encouraged him to come out with an account that has sensationalism, a bit of bravado, and some inaccuracies. To me, the key question is whether there’s enough accuracy to make the story credible.”

Boothby also said:

“My take on this from the beginning was: There was some kind of exaggeration. I’ve seen it over and over. Whether by psychologists or journalists, they are encouraged to tell the sensational stories. It’s not surprising that that could be the case here.

“The system is set up to reward sensational stories. We all need to look at why does something have to be so horrific before we open our eyes and ears and hearts?”

Beah has maintained that there is no exaggeration and his story is “all true.”

Rayman’s article has many other thought-provoking comments like Boothby’s and, for its intelligence and clarity of vision, surpasses anything on Beah that has appeared in the New York Times and other daily newspapers. Don’t miss the Voice story if you’re confused about the claims and counter-claims for the book or if you belong to a reading group that’s considering it.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Ok, so I thought you were off the mark in your earlier post where you said that Beah’s publisher was twiddling with his Wikipedia entry. And at that stage I think it was down to Beah’s informal support group. However, a Wikipedia editor (not an ordinary wikipedia user) has now started making deletions saying that they ahve been getting complaints from teh publisher. See the page and also see the history and discussion buttons.

    Comment by rosabibi — March 21, 2008 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  2. PS, Wikipedia has a facility to request arbitration. I think that should be done in that case, esp since the entry as it now stands is effectively accusing the Australian’s staff of unethnical conduct (by suggesting that they made “claims” about Beah’s parentage – they never made any such claim). have invested too much time in this already – you interested in taking it up?

    Comment by rosabibi — March 21, 2008 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

  3. [Update: I looked at the Wikipedia after I wrote this. It’s shocking that Wikipedia has changed the words “Credibility Controvery” to “Dispute With the Australian” … as though there’s no credibility controversy after articles by AP, Slate, the Voice, etc. Wikipedia seems totally to have capitulated to Beah’s handlers. I wonder if the editors at the Australian know this? Jan]

    Yes, I could support arbitration. If you think it would help to copy this comment (and any of my biographical info) and paste it onto a Wikipedia forum, feel free. If you don’t think that would help, would you let me know what would help? The whole entry is a mess.

    One thing that should go to arbitration: Wikipedia keeps calling Laura Simms Beah’s “foster” mother. But he says she’s his “adoptive” mother. Why can’t we have a clear answer on this? If we can’t have it, Wikipedia should change the line or take it out.

    Also — just to clarify — I didn’t mean to suggest that Beah’s publisher was involved. I, too, was thinking of his informal support group and possibly Beah himself.

    Let me know what you decide to do, and thanks for the update.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 21, 2008 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

  4. Hi again,
    take a look at the discussion here, where a wikipedia admin justifies the change:
    I questioned it, and I also mentioned your blog and said that you had thought that Beah’s publisher might be involved in earlier changes = sorry to have misread you on that. Anyway, you can see the discussion. I’m fairly new to wikipedia and still working out all the bells and whistles. I’m going to leave it for now and think about it. The line that I think is an inaccurate slur on the Australian’s journalists is the bit about their having retracted claims about Beah’s parentage – they investigated, they never made claims, so there was nothing to retract. They might want to follow that one up themselves.

    Comment by rosabibi — March 21, 2008 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

  5. quote from the discussion section:
    “The subject’s publisher has registered disquiet with the weight we give The Australian’s account here (OTRS ticket#2008020710015739).”
    But no response to my having pointed out that the entry as it now stands contains a slur against the Australian’s staff.

    Comment by rosabibi — March 21, 2008 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  6. Just saw your comment on Wikipedia about the UNICEF quote in the Voice blog. Quotes like that would definitely give the entry more credibility. I hope you can add it at some point.

    You’d have wonder what’s up, wouldn’t you, if people tried to delete a quote from UNICEF from the entry?


    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — March 21, 2008 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

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