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Literary Fakes, the Personal Touch

Yesterday, I wrote about Ishmael Beah, the child soldier who wrote a book about his experiences and is now caught up in the oh so fun literary scandal of Did I Lie, Did I Not. Well, to add to the continual interest of this story, I got a post by Dan Chaon, the creative writing teaching of Beah who was quoted in the original article.

Dear Ben,

I don't usually do this but I am so annoyed that I have to write to you and your readers. I have written a letter to The Australian but I don't know whether they will publish it.

I was radically misquoted. I would have never used the term "poetic licence," for example. My position is that I would like to wait to hear what Ishmael himself has to say. There was never a good reason for him to "lie" about the facts. Is it more impressive that he was a child soldier for 2 years, or 2 months? Ultimately, what's the difference in the degree of suffering this kid endured? When he was writing this book, he didn't have any sense that it would become a bestseller, so what would be the point in inventing facts? And if he was lying, why would he be so stupid as to mix up major dates? That doesn't make sense.

It seems to me that you guys are awfully naive in accepting your Murdoch produced "news" as gospel. Hmmm. Do you think there might be an agenda in the decision to go after a third world author whose work is making people aware of human rights abuses in his country?

Something to think about.


Yours truly,

Dan Chaon
"The creative writing teacher"


Neat, hey?

Anyhow, I suppose, in a fashion, as regular readers here will know, my interest in literary fakes--proven or not--is one that I've had for a while, and which was, in actuality, one of the influences in writing 26lies, which is an autobiography that features a lot of information about literary fakes. My interest in this stuff then, is somewhat academic, as I have no investment in if Beah is proven to be true or not, and yesterday's post was written from that standpoint. However, I can well imagine that my half assed post on a story that I've taken no time to research, and which is taking its factual parts out of the Australian, would do well to cause upset to people involved. For that, I'll offer an apology, but it is more than likely that I will make some half assed commentary again on this blog, either about this topic in particular, or about another, and if you could keep in mind that it's not commentary aimed at the people, but the story, it'll be all nice and chilled and laid back. Or, perhaps not. I'm usually good either way.

In response to Chaon's last comment, however, about the Murdoch run conspiracy against Beah, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on that one. Since the story has come out in an Australian paper, I'm simply going to put it down to the country's fascination with finding literary fakes and then publicly bashing them for a while. We've a reasonable enough history of it, after all, though the time could perhaps be better spent exposing and knifing the politicians who lie to the country and then get caught out in, say, elections, but then we'd probably really be getting down to who has a choking hold over the media here.

Still, thank you for coming by and posting, Dan. It's appreciated.

If others are interested, there are replies by Beah himself and his publisher, here.

Comments

ataxi
Jan. 21st, 2008 10:55 pm (UTC)
The replies seem to cast some doubt on the details presented by The Australian's journalist (Shelley Gare, I guess). Maybe we're dealing with a hoax-hoax.

March on, you mobile army of metaphors.
"Is it more impressive that he was a child soldier for 2 years, or 2 months? Ultimately, what's the difference in the degree of suffering this kid endured?"
It seems pretty clear to me that the "degree of suffering" Beah experienced is what has motivated the book's success. Whether it would've been equally successful if it presented itself as a memoir of a child-solder-for-two-months is an open question.
benpeek
Jan. 22nd, 2008 01:39 am (UTC)
well, yes, i do agree that degree of suffering, so to say, is part of the strength of the beah's story. to be critical of choan (and beah and others) if they're already willing to concede points on the facts, such as time frames, then how much more can you poke holes into it?
ataxi
Jan. 22nd, 2008 02:57 am (UTC)
It's a bit of a worry that the defence seems to consist of admitting they can't back the facts up and then leaping on the high moral ground. But Beah's comments about the school principal dredged up by The Oz not being kosher suggest that the jury's out to a large extent.
benpeek
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
yeah, pretty much. but that's always the way--all you and i got to do is just watch and wait and see who comes out on top.
ataxi
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:42 am (UTC)
*munches popcorn*

Not that this is obscuring the horror of the SL civil war or anything.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 2nd, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC)
Except that the Australian's report stated very clearly that the person they interviewed was not the school principal, but a senior teacher, at the time that Beah attended the school (he became the principal later). The Australian has since tracked down the principal named by Beah in his statement, and this man confirms that the Australian's original interviewees had been teachers at the school, and he too says that Beah attended the school until 2005. - aussie reader