Ex-Child Soldier’s Memoir Called Into Question

It’s all about how you present your story.

This spring I read Dave Eggers’ heartbreaking book “What is the What“, which recounts the powerful and tragic experience of Valentino Achak Deng, who was a child refugee during civil war in Sudan.

But even though Eggers’ fantastic book offers a first person account of the real-life story of Achak Deng, the book was published as a novel and is presented as a ‘fictionalized memoir’, not as a work of non-fiction, due to Deng’s inability to recount every single detail of his traumatic early childhood experiences.

It seems that it is only when you’ve claimed absolute authenticity and truth, in your storytelling, that you become subject to the harshest of criticism, skepticism, and questioning. Just look at James Frey.

With this in mind, Ishmael Beah would have been wise to observe Eggers and Deng’s decision, given the controversy that has begun to surround alleged narrative “inconsistencies” in Beah’s memoir of his time serving as a child soldier in Sierra Leone.

Author Ishmael Beah disputed reports that his best-selling 2007 memoir about serving as a child soldier in Sierra Leone contained inconsistencies.

Beah, speaking with The Associated Press during his first trip back to Sierra Leone since the book was published, defended his version of events in “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” saying his memoir is based on personal recollection and is not a historical account.

“I decided to write because I wanted to shed light on this experience from my own personal point of view. I never claimed I was going to write a history of the war,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Only Ishmael Beah can tell his experience. I wrote the memoirs based on my experience as far as my memory could remember.”

Beah’s memoir was hailed as a landmark in wartime writing – but some are skeptical, questioning how the 27-year-old is able to recall incidents that happened a decade earlier when, according to his own account, he was often high on drugs.

A report in The Australian newspaper cited residents near Mattru Jong, not far from Beah’s native village, as saying a major battle described in the book took place in 1995, two years later than the author’s account. The newspaper cited locals who said Beah could not have been a soldier in 1993 because he was still in school.

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