Monday, January 28, 2008

The Aussies aren't done with Beah

After last weeks rebuttal by Ishmael Beah regarding the points raised by The Australian newspaper, the journalists have come up with a point by point refutation of his argument. Essentially, they contend he still has not accounted for the fundamental inaccuracy in the book, and while the central element regarding his story is the length of time he served as a 'child soldier', other inaccuracies are also coming to light.

Commenting in their article The Australian says in part,

The Australian has believed that those inaccuracies were a result of Beah's memory being impaired by the trauma, drugs and extreme youth he describes in his book but the latest statement by Beah, who is now 27, and his publisher Sarah Crichton of Farrar, Straus & Giroux seriously misrepresent The Australian's reporting over the last week.

Beah is not going to change is story and perhaps there is a ready and acceptable notion in the minds of those familiar with the story that perhaps he suffered so much (and is a symbol of many other lost children) that we should therefore forgive some minor infraction. I was however, surprised at the view taken by Publisher's Weekly which effectively apologizes for every authors confusion with reality and fiction.
In this country, it's commonly known in the publishing industry that memoirs—even post–James Frey—are not stringently fact-checked; at most, they're submitted to legal departments looking for libel. Writers are responsible for their facts, and editors for probing their writers' hearts and souls and memories. In the case of A Long Way Gone, however, an excerpt (including the now-disputed dates) was fact-checked by the New York Times last January. “The fact-checking, as often happens, turned up a few discrepancies that were resolved without undermining the plausibility of his account,” Times spokesperson Diane C. McNulty said in an e-mail.
Apologizes but doesn't hold anyone accountable. PW goes on to say that in the memoir world no ones memory can be completely verified but in this case (and in countless others) just some basic fact checking might have raised a few flags. Note also, the incredible amounts paid for celebrity and political memoirs: Are we now to believe these might contain only a casual relationship to reality or are they true and close depictions of reality as the author knew it at the time. Possibly both. This book was sold as 'a truth' and in the pursuit of that truth it looks like anyone asking any pointed questions was patronized and rebuffed. Surely there are enough 'real' memoirs worth reading without embellishment and Long Way Gone is a case in point.

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