Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Long Way Gone - Truth or Fiction?

I read this memoir and watched the Brian Lamb interview of Ishmael Beah on C-Span last year. I was riveted by this young man's story and by the almost disconnected way he described the atrocities that he perpetrated on others and the change in his demeanor when he would talk about his life before or after the war. He would begin speaking in a robotic manner, and his narrative would have a third person quality, then the twinkle in his eye would return and his enthusiasm for story-telling, dancing, music and just life would spill over with a contagious smile. Watching him, I was reminded of the resilience of human beings. Beah looked and sounded just like any other college kid, bringing home his laundry and raiding the refrigerator yet in the same conversation he calmly talked about horrors that would scar most people for life.

Then a few weeks ago I read a response from Beah to an article alleging that much of his memoir was embellished, if not actually fabricated. I didn't know what the story was other than that a Australian paper had printed articles questioning the veracity of the story.

Well, Slate has looked into the details behind the brouhaha - but I'm still left not knowing where the truth lies. Then again, if a 14-year-old even survives an ordeal like this, I suppose I am willing to allow him the benefit of the doubt and assume any misstatements of fact are due to the "fog of war, youth, pain, and loss" and not intentional attempts to mislead.

I may be naive, but I chose to believe this exceptional young man. For the full story

Thumbs up to Shelf Awareness

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