Boy Soldier of Fortune

A celebrated memoir threatens to blow into a million little pieces

"Look at any map of Sierra Leone and you'll see the inaccuracy," he said. "The book version is five times larger than any other version I've seen." Beah's publishers at FSG insist that the map is accurate. But officials with HarperCollins told Wilson that they plan on correcting the map in future editions. London journalist Bryan Appleyard has written that the map is "the grossest error I have ever seen in a book from a major publishing house."

Another odd circumstance, Harayda noted, is that Beah's book and a novel about the civil war published in 2005 both contain soldiers who recite and perform Shakespeare.The novel, Moses, Citizen and Me, was published prior to Beah's book. The Voice contacted author Delia Jarrett Macaulay via her publisher but didn't receive a response.

"It seems to me that Beah's book has gotten much less scrutiny than it deserved," Harayda said. "People think if you question the book, you're questioning whether child soldiering is a tragedy. They are separate issues."

But St. John, the Portland professor, said Beah's story is so powerful that he's willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt. "Hell is hell, no matter how long you were in it," he said.

For the reporters from The Australian, however, the course that the story has followed remains mystifying. "We have had no agenda, and we have wondered about the motivation of Beah's supporters," Nason said. "My view is they are clinging to Beah's futile protestations of truth and accuracy to protect themselves . . . . But nobody will let us near Beah to try and find out."

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