Does Best-Seller Bend the Facts?

The book, gripping in its tale of a drug-addicted child soldier who lost his family in war-torn Sierra Leone, has captivated hundreds of thousands of readers around the world.

Ishmael Beah, the author of the best-selling "A Long Way Gone," has become an international celebrity lauded for his resilience and bravery, and was recently appointed a Unicef Advocate for Children Affected by War.

But new claims that Beah may have distorted accounts of his time as a child soldier threaten to dim his star and tarnish the message of the book.

An Australian newspaper, The Weekend Australian, recently reported that Beah's ordeal may have lasted only two or three months, not the three years he claimed in the book, and that his chronology of events in the civil war are flawed.

Beah and his publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux, fired back with a strongly worded statement, quoting Sierra Leoneans who back up his account, and accusing his critics of defamation.

The story of the 27-year-old writer and his skeptics, a tangled tale of good intentions, wounded pride and scars of war, has enough drama to fill another book.

It all began when Peta Lloyd, a bookseller in western Australia, received copies of the book last July and raved about it to her husband, Bob Lloyd. She encouraged him to take it along with him on the long flight to his new job as the general manager of a mine in Sierra Leone.

When he read the book, Lloyd realized he was heading to the same mine where Beah's father used to work.

Soon after arriving, Lloyd claimed that one of his employees, a laboratory assistant, told him that he was Ishmael's father and that he wanted to contact his son. He also claimed that his mineworkers disagreed with various elements of the book, especially a crucial date that marks Beah's induction as a child soldier, according to the Australian.

Lloyd reached out to the book's publisher and Beah's adoptive mother, Laura Simms, to inform them about this apparent miracle of finding the father alive but says he met with a dismissive and hostile attitude.

Simms, a New York storyteller and activist, says that she and Beah wrote a list of questions that only Beah's father would be able to answer and sent them to Lloyd, along with a request for photographs. Beah, who is on a book tour in Europe, was not available for comment.

When Lloyd sent back the responses, Simms says Beah realized that the man was not his father, adding that the experience was unnerving for both of them.

"I was somewhat distressed," she told "To open that door up for Ishmael, this little tiny hope that somehow his family had survived and then to close that door made me feel kind of ill."

Distressed by the reaction he received and with tensions simmering between both camps, Lloyd went to the media, and reporters from The Australian traveled to Sierra Leone to look into the truth of Beah's account.

The crux of the resulting story was that Beah describes a rebel attack on his native village as taking place in 1993 when several authoritative sources put the date of the attack as 1995. Since Beah was chosen for rehabilitation by Unicef in January 1996, his time as a child soldier would have lasted less than a year, according to The Australian's timeline.

Peter Wilson, a reporter for The Australian, traveled to Sierra Leone and said not a single person corroborated Beah's timeline of events.

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