Literary Criticism and Significance
Published in 2007 by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, Ishmael Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone, is one of the few memoirs written about child soldiers. Critics have called it a testament to the desecration of war-torn, third-world countries. Throughout the memoir, Beah avoids self-pity and melodrama and develops his story as he remembers it. Critics around the country hail Beah’s memoir as being hauntingly honest; the memoir is delivered in prose that is vivid, calm, and accessible. After its release, the book became a national bestseller and was selected as the first reading selection for the Starbucks reading club. The Library Journal praised the memoir and stated that it should be made available in all high school and public libraries.
The publication of A Long Way Gone thrust Beah into the role of spokesperson for the issue of child soldiers. He is currently a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee, and he has spoken before the United Nations and several other NGOs. Beah continues to work on behalf of child soldiers for their rescue and rehabilitation.
Despite the overwhelming success of A Long Way Gone, there have been several claims posited by the media that challenge the authenticity of Beah’s story. Three reporters from the Australian claim that the details in Beah’s memoir are highly exaggerated based on alleged conversations with a man claiming to be Beah’s father. Beah says in his memoir that his entire family was killed in a fire during a village raid; however, a reporter from the Australian claims to have met the father during a trip to Sierra Leone. The Australian has published several articles attacking the authenticity of A Long Way Gone, to which Beah’s publishers have directly responded. Laura Simms, Beah’s foster mother in the United States, drafted a series of questions based on details that Beah gave her that could only be answered by Beah’s true father. When the responses came back incorrect, Simms realized that the allegations of Beah’s supposed father were false. Beah has made public statements denouncing the claims made by the Australian and attesting to the verity of the events in A Long Way Gone.