A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier A Long Way Gone discussion


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Is it real?

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message 1: by Owen (new)

Owen I am reading this book for school and my teacher said some people believe parts of it are false. I agree, some things are not realistic. Your thoughts?


Eric It has been a few years since I read this but my experience with things that we cannot understand first hand, is that more will denounce than not. I think most personal accounts of things unimaginable are scrutinized unfairly by those that are not willing to admit that others are far more unfortunate and stronger than themselves. The fact is, is that you cannot know for certain unless you were there. Reading things books and articles like this are important though to understand what is going on around the world.


message 3: by Owen (new)

Owen You have a good point Eric. That is just like with religion, those who don't understand it fear it. I know the author was definitely involved with the war but some parts seem fake. For instance, one scene sounded so unreal when he was eavesdropping on the rebels. I was thinking to myself, "Nobody talks like that." I have also heard his host mother may have influenced this because she is a storyteller.


message 4: by Janet C-B (last edited Mar 01, 2012 05:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Janet C-B I read the book a few years ago, and took it as a non-fiction account of a horrific situation in a part of the world I have no experience with. I actually did not think of it as sensationalized as I read the book. Of course, only the writer knows what actually happened, but I give him a lot of credit for getting to where he is today. I rated this book 5 stars, which I rare for me. Sometimes, I am cynical when I read memoir, but I guess this book must have been very convincing to me.


Lisa i agree with eric. if we can't grasp the idea of something, a lot of the time we'll say it's not real. but wars happen (obviously) and i think things are worse than we can possibly imagine. i don't remember ever thinking that something sounded made up in it, but i guess you can never know. sometimes people strech the truth , but in a memoir like this one, i can't see why he'd do that


Eric Also think of the translation / interpretation of language. That may be part of why certain parts seem unrealistic.


message 7: by Owen (new)

Owen Well Lisa, I'm not positive I've just heard this, but the guy that wrote Three Cups of Tea and another book didn't actually do those things. I may be wrong on that though. But the reason someone might make it up is to make the book better.


message 8: by Dee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee there were accusations that the guy who wrote Three Cups of Tea didn't do anything he said - you can read about it here - Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way - but to my knowledge based on what I read, his "expose" was based on 10 documents that were all second hand info

FWIW, i'm not a fan of Krakauer either, after stuff that he has done (caught lying about one of his expeditions)


Eric Mortenson did embellish what he was responsible for from what I understand.

However I have to defend ol' Krakauer , Into Thin Air? possibly the culprit...remember he suffered from altitude sickness along with everyone else on that one, he admits to not being positive of certain events.


message 10: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Owen wrote: "I am reading this book for school and my teacher said some people believe parts of it are false. I agree, some things are not realistic. Your thoughts?"

It's been a while since I read it, but I seem to remember that some of the military technical stuff was inaccurate and some things just not believable. One thing I seem to remember is a passage where someone is saved when a bullet fired at them lodges in a baby. Sorry, the 7.62 x 39 round will not be stopped by a baby or half a dozen babies. There were other inconsistencies that anyone who had actually handled the firearms should not have made a mistake on. But like I say, it's been a while.


message 11: by Owen (new)

Owen This is why I like the idea of writing/reading fiction. You make everything up and never claim it's true.


Terry Pearce I think in order to even tackle this question, you need to think carefully about the notion of 'truth'.

It's been shown in well-respected studies that normal people in normal situations will remember key things differently, down to who said something or what colour a car involved in an accident was.

When we remember even a simple, short, recent incident, our memories are rarely all we think they are. For someone recalling a sustained period of their (at the time young) life where they were constantly frightened, confused, stressed, etc., memory is bound to take some twists and turns from what a video camera on the scene might have captured.

There are lots of other things that factor in here, such as the way that, when people tell a story (and you can bet he told many of these stories in informal settings long before he set them to paper), you literally re-create the story. I'm sure most people have had the experience where they've listened to someone telling an anecdote where they were actually present at the time of the story, only to think to themselves 'that's not how it happened'. It doesn't mean the person is lying -- we often, when re-creating stories, think to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, 'how did that part happen? oh, it must have been like... that, maybe', and then convince ourselves after repeated tellings that that's exactly how it was, no question. We make a narrative that makes sense out of events that may not really have made much sense at the time.

Now there's definitely a line between that, and what James Frey and Greg Mortensen appear to have done, which is to deliberately fabricate detail. But to my knowledge, there's *nothing* to suggest that Ishmael Beah has crossed that line.

Specific details that he remembers may not have happened exactly thus, but he would be some kind of superhuman memory machine if they all had. I have no reason to doubt the thrust of his story and that it paints a fairly accurate picture of what went on, and given the good work he's gone on to do since with the UN in trying to end child soldiery, I have nothing but goodwill for the man and all his efforts.


Terry Pearce Ha. I wrote that then went to read the newspaper and straightaway found this, which underlines the point:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blo...


message 14: by Dee (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dee the brain is a weird and wonderful thing. one of the more entertaining classes I had to do was on cognitive psychology. It is why eye-witness testimony is so easily disproven in court nowadays


message 15: by Eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric Thanks Terry That was really thoughtful.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I have to agree with what has already been stated above. This event, and the way in which it is described, does seem unreal at times. I have to tell myself that I have never had to go through these experiences while I am reading. That is the point that I have to drive home with myself. I am going to think that parts are made up because I have never been in his shoes. I have never had to run from the army or a rebel army. I have never really had to survive like he had to. While I think there might be a few embellishments on details, as there are in any story, I believe that the story itself is true and told to the best of his ability. Beah has worked hard to get support for children that have had to go through things like him. I don't think that Beah would do what he does if his story was not true.


Heather Jo wrote: "I have to agree with what has already been stated above. This event, and the way in which it is described, does seem unreal at times. I have to tell myself that I have never had to go through these..."

I agree.


Marcie Harkness This book brings to light a very dismal and tragic topic. It is sad to hear about these type of atrocities occurring in this day and age. I know the current interest in KONY is not related to this book, but if more and more people are made aware, it can't hurt.
See http://www.invisiblechildren.com/


message 19: by Owen (new)

Owen Yeah, we get a lot of that on Youtube.


message 20: by Yona (new) - rated it 4 stars

Yona I think he overestimates the power of his own memory, especially because at some moments he says he couldn't remember anything, then all of a sudden the memories come back. I have no clue--who am I to judge? Either way, I think it acurately shows how it damaged him adn how he perceived it.


message 21: by Rob (last edited Mar 17, 2012 09:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob Gaines Terry's points are excellent. And they refer to any person under any circumstances. This book was written several years after most of the events. The author was very young when most of the events occurred, and only a young adult when he wrote them down. My edition of Tillie Pierce Alleman's *At Gettysburg* includes a forward that points out Mrs. Alleman's inaccuracies.

Ismael Baeh underwent more than young Tillie's mental trauma, including fighting in numerous battles, taking drugs (and snorting GUNPOWDER), and being brainwashed. Yes, it's safe to bet his account of events is not 100% accurate. But there is no other account of these events. The adult participants in this war aren't writing books about what they did to these kids.


Rachielle I believe that things happened as he remembered them. That is why this is classified as a memoir, not an autobiography.


Alyssa Cocchiara I had the opportunity to meet Ismael at Rutgers. I remember the audience asked him the same question of did certain parts really happen. He honestly said that I tried to recount everything to the bet of his ability but to remember he was a young scared boy who at times was on drugs. In no way did we get the James Frey feel when he was discussing his experiences and answering our questions on-the-fly.


message 24: by Owen (new)

Owen Ok, I think I misworded my question.


George Hamilton I read the book some years ago and gave it 4*. The overall feel of the book was in line with accounts I have read in the media and seen in documentaries over the years about child soldiers in Africa. Still, individual elements may have been embellished for reasons of making it a better story. I did read somewhere that it was disputed whether he was in the war zone for the full period depicted in the novel, but again, it may have been written that way for structural reasons.


message 26: by Shae (new) - rated it 4 stars

Shae Rachielle wrote: "I believe that things happened as he remembered them. That is why this is classified as a memoir, not an autobiography."
I agree with that statement. I always tell people our reality, our truth, is what we perceive. For him, this is his account and what he remembers. We also have to keep in mind that Beah went through a traumatic experience, so everything might not be 100% accurate. But this was his reality at that time.


Melissa In The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, O'Brien states that if you ask the question, "is this story true?" and if the answer (whether or not it is yes or no) really matters, then you have your answer.


message 28: by Owen (new)

Owen I'm not smart enough to understand what you just said.


Melissa haha that's okay :) It means that if a story touches a person deeply enough, it won't matter whether or not the story was the actual, full truth of what happened - all that matters is that it did its job and made you understand.


Chricrai is it true is probably the wrong question to ask. truth is all based on interpretation and perspective. i feel the memoir was HIS truth, all his recollections were more likely than not swayed by emotion, age, and retrospect. Some things look differently when you have had time to remember them, fear them, and move past them. perhaps if this memoir was written day to day through the experience it would be a different story, but i think it was as true as Ishmeal Beah could have possibly made it, no one goes back to those dark parts if their life and just alters to the story, it doesn't really work that way (in my opinion and from my own experience).


message 31: by Krys (new) - rated it 5 stars

Krys (Krys Reads) Owen wrote: "You have a good point Eric. That is just like with religion, those who don't understand it fear it. I know the author was definitely involved with the war but some parts seem fake. For instance, on..."

I think another thing, I will naively say, direct translation isn't always possible in certain tongues. So, as much as somethings seem unbelievable because of it's wording, it could easily just be because the best translation for the situation didn't come "naturally".


George Hamilton Black & Write Reviewer wrote: ...direct translation isn't always possible in certain tongues

I think this issue of translation is definitely a problem in literature, especially the genre that people often call magical realism. For the peoples of the cultures that write in this genre—often Latin American, Caribbean and African—there is nothing magical about it, the mysterious and mystical is embraced as a part of their reality. Whereas for many of the peoples that read the genre, some of the human experiences do seem magical to them.


Lindsay I think a lot of this is true. The facts may not be precise but from a general perspective where children are sent to war and ultimately kill fellow humans is unfortunately a reality. Coming from peaceful countries this may be difficult to perceive like many of the harsher realities people face in the more troubled areas of the world.


Andrew Ogilvie Every story has elements that are exaggerated, or misrepresented (look at the Bible), but it should never take away from the overall truth, or message, of the book.


Marie Eric wrote: "It has been a few years since I read this but my experience with things that we cannot understand first hand, is that more will denounce than not. I think most personal accounts of things unimagina..."

I couldn't have said it better myself!


Lauren Marie wrote: "Eric wrote: "It has been a few years since I read this but my experience with things that we cannot understand first hand, is that more will denounce than not. I think most personal accounts of thi..."

I couldn't agree with you more! I actually had the opportunity to meet Ishmael Beah several years ago when I was in college. In discussing his book and his story, the heartache and sincerity was so genuine that it was clear his words were the truth.


message 37: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul A few years ago there were many of these accounts set amidst various african conflicts, some of which were non-fiction, some fiction and some histories of these events. Having read many of these books, I certainly didn't come across anything in the fiction that was not reported and verified in a history book. A similar statement could be made about the Cambodian genocide, where actual horrors far exceeded the imaginations of authors of fiction.


Adrian Watts Having read this book, and others like it, as well as having spoken to people who have lived through events like these in both Africa and Bosnia; I believe. As others have stated I can understand how not having witnessed such horror it is difficult to imagine that it can actually happen. But horrors have been happening for thousands of years, and continue today.
If your teacher is working with your class to recognize truth in the printed word you would be much better off reviewing advertising or the political section of your local paper. Frankly there are so many better and more meaningful ways to address that topic that I would put her choice of subject in the same category of questioning the holocaust or in interrogating a rape victim to ascertain blame.
We know that these events took place.


Zinzi Nsingwane Owen wrote: "Well Lisa, I'm not positive I've just heard this, but the guy that wrote Three Cups of Tea and another book didn't actually do those things. I may be wrong on that though. But the reason someone mi..."

WELL ERIC..I THINK THAT THE REASON WHY YOU FIND IT HARD TO BELIEVE THAT ALL THIS THINGS IN THE BOOK ARE TRUE THAT IS BECAUSE YOU DONT REALLY UNDERSTAND THE FACT THAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY GET KILLED OR KILL FOR SUCH ISSUES...ITS WEIRD BUT YOU COULD GET KILLED FOR REFUSING TO KILL SOMEONE...


message 40: by Owen (new)

Owen I'd like to apologize to everyone because I went back over this post and realized how dumb it sounds. I asked it when I was an uneducated freshman that didn't know how to properly analyze literature or how humans act/what we perceive. I haven't gone back to the book or looked up outside information to verify his account but I regret automatically questioning the author's account of a traumatic situation. I don't think my teacher was necessarily incorrect, nor were the other people that questioned Beah's honesty. Freshman me would have assumed he would have made a lot of stuff up to get sympathy, but junior me realizes the atrocities of war so we readers will already know the horrible situations child soldiers have to experience and won't need strictly true examples of what fighting in a war as a child was like.

I don't remember exactly which parts I found questionable or hard to believe and I'm not saying that I was definitely wrong because it is okay to question things when we read. I actually just read The Things They Carried for another class, and O'Brien says that things could be true or not, and that is not always the most important thing. What is more important is what we get out of it.

Again, I'm sorry if anyone thought I was ignorant or falsely questioning the author of this book. I still recommend reading it and will probably get to it again someday.


Lindsay Owen wrote: "I'd like to apologize to everyone because I went back over this post and realized how dumb it sounds. I asked it when I was an uneducated freshman that didn't know how to properly analyze literatur..."

Hi Owen your question was very reasonable and not ignorant. It is more ignorant to blindly accept everything we hear and read as true.


message 42: by Owen (new)

Owen Thank you, Lindsay. You have a good point.


message 43: by T (new) - rated it 4 stars

T Cullens I think it's ridiculous to go over every single period, dot and comma with a magnifying glass. The fact is that this man was made to live through horrifying experiences. Instead of trying to undermine his credibility we should be applauding his ability to live through it. This book was awesome and it brings to light so many of the problems in Africa even going on today.


Nrtashi I take memoirs and autobiographies as part truth, part fiction. Obviously, some things have to be left out or exaggerated-if only to make the book more entertaining. Or serve some other purpose.

For example, this book was written to underline the plight of child-soldiers. As such, one might expect the author to show the entire business in the light as negative as possible. He also, clearly, did everything in his power to portray himself as innocent victim-a child, so to speak. No doubt he erased some of his more controversial deeds from the history, either by not mentioning them(hence a little-to-no account of his actual days as a soldier) or changing facts to fit the message. No one can prove anything to him, anyway.
Now, that doesn't mean that story is worthless, or that events written about here are complete fiction. But it does mean that certain dose of healthy skepticism while reading this, or any other, memoir is required.


George Hamilton Nrtashi wrote: "He also, clearly, did everything in his power to portray himself as innocent victim-a child, so to speak. No doubt he erased some of his more controversial deeds from the history, either by not mentioning them(hence a little-to-no account of his actual days as a soldier) or changing facts to fit the message.

..."


I think you make some very important points. He obviously wouldn't want to leave a trail of evidence as to his own misdeeds.


message 46: by Leah (new) - rated it 4 stars

Leah Mensch whether youre there for three hundred days, or three hours, hell is still hell


message 47: by Owen (new)

Owen Good point.


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