Ishmael Beah’s Memoir Facing Frey-like Scrutiny
As if the Cassie Edwards’ copying scandal hasn’t demoralized your faith in the publishing industry enough, Ishmael Beah’s bestselling memoir, A Long Way Gone, is the subject of two investigative pieces by The Australian. The first article was published on January 19, 2008, and tells the story about a couple who were keenly interested in Beah’s story.
They engaged in some research and thought that they might have uncovered Beah’s father. This discovery led to a revelation crucial to the timeline of Beah’s memoir.
Beah writes on the second page of his story: “The first time that I was touched by war I was 12. It was in January 1993.”
But the event he goes on to describe did not occur until January 1995.
The date difference is important since it mean that Beah might have only spent a couple of months in the army and not the years the memoirs describe. The article is not an indictment of Beah’s story but rather the oversight that the publisher took in fact checking the book. Perhaps this would be a non story if not for the Frey hoax but the reporters of The Australian note that the date could be confirmed by a simple Google search.
When the publishers, FSG, were questioned, the reporters were met with hostility and the couple who had discovered the date discrepancy were accused of being “troublemakers.”
The second article further implicates the publishers suggesting that they had exploited Beah.
Professor Chaon suggested Beah’s publisher and agent were being protective of a young writer because “there are a lot of predators out there”. He discounted the idea that the publishing business itself might be the biggest predator.
There was some suggestion that the memoir needn’t be subject to the stringent standards of journalism (doesn’t this all sound familiar). In rebuttal, the reporter offered up the following:
Literary agent Fran Moore, of Curtis Brown, said there was a standard contract for authors that protected publishers. “The author has to take responsibility that the work is true and proper. If the publisher has any doubts, they’ll have it legally read.”
Melbourne University Publishing’s chief executive officer and publisher-in-chief Louise Adler disputed the idea that a memoir was permitted to be less reliable than an autobiography.
“There’s no difference. I expect the highest level of authentication and fact-checking in both. Doing a memoir doesn’t let you off the hook,” she said.
Edited to add: Ishmael Beah has come out with a public statement in his defense.
I was right about my family. I am right about my story. This is not something one gets wrong. The Australian’s reporters have been calling my college professors, asking if I “embellished” my story. They published my adoptive mother’s address, so she now receives ugly threats. They have used innuendo against me when there is no fact. Though apparently, they believe anything they are told-unless it comes from me or supports my account. Sad to say, my story is all true.