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Yes, Starbucks Has Changed Ishmael Beah’s Life

Josh Getlin at the LA Times follows former child soldier Ishmael Beah around as he signs books in Manhattan, the author’s profile growing in leaps and bounds ever since Starbucks made his memoir A LONG WAY GONE its second book choice. “This all hit me out of the blue,” the modest, soft-spoken writer said to Getlin recently, riding a cab to his first appearance on the tour, in a New York cafe. “I didn’t even know Starbucks sold books. They chose mine, and it changed everything. I wasn’t really prepared.” So far, according to Starbucks, the book has sold 37,000 in its chain stores to date – which matches up with the Bookscan numbers published here last week.

There’s the usual surprise from publishing types like Ira Silverberg (Beah’s agent) and Sarah Crichton (his editor) and some further insight into how Crichton handled the memoir in the wake of the James Frey scandal. The publisher asked Beah to vouch for the accuracy of his book, with its sharp recall of details and conversations. Crichton was willing to take the leap after Beah assured her that he has a “photographic memory.” He reminded her that he had grown up in a culture with a long-standing oral tradition and had learned to tell stories from memory around a fire – and so editing continued. Beah’s book — and his message — are primed for huge national exposure. But will Americans really be able to grasp what he’s been through? “I’m like any other 26-year-old,” the author said with a laugh, minutes before his debut. “A 26-year-old with a Starbucks tour.”

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