Saturday, March 08, 2008

Memory Troubles (copy)

Note: I need to thank Sam Houston at Book Chase for this article idea. It was sometime last fall when Sam (I think) reported on Beah's timeline troubles in A Long Way Gone. Seems an Australian reporter did not believe his story because one year did not match Beah's uncle's recollection. We are talking 1994 vs 1996, and I totally see how time can be a problem in memoirs. Beah is forgiven in my eyes. But these others, bah!

I am currently between books, but deadline looms. For this reason, I decided to report a book controversy sweeping the globe. Remember James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces lie? Well, folks, it happened again. I am talking about authors who pass off false stories as truth in the form of memoirs.

Motoko Rich, a journalist for International Herald Tribune, reported, “In Love and Consequences, a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.”

Here is the truth: “Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.”

A week before this news broke, Misha Defonseca admitted her 1997 memoir, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years, is fake.

According to Blake Eskin of Slate, “Misha is about a Jewish girl from Brussels who walked across Europe by herself during World War II and spent months living in the forest…Even if you forget for a moment that Defonseca has two prolonged encounters with wolves in war-torn Europe, her story strains credulity: She walks from Belgium to Ukraine, sneaks into and out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and stabs to death a Nazi rapist who attacks her—all between ages 7 and 11.”

Two decades after the European bestseller was translated into 18 different languages, a fact finder tried to research Misha’s family tree. The results exposed Misha, whose real name is Monique De Wael, is Catholic by birth and spent the war safe in Brussels.

This is a troublesome trend to read as a lover of memoirs. Memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies have a natural tendency for inaccuracies, but to fabricate a whole book is disgraceful.


~Becky said...

I totally agree.
The beauty of reading a memoir is knowing that someone lived it. To find out that it was mostly or totally a lie is a huge let down.

Jeane said...

I have trouble understanding why someone would lie in a memoir. Why not just publish it as fiction and indicate which parts are true?

Anonymous said...

The truth for some people (including some writers) is nothing but lies much to the readers' chagrin Maggie.

sage said...

Well, wasn't it Mark Twain who said never to let the truth get in the way of a good story...

I'm waiting till all my family are dead before I publish my memoirs, for the truth according to them might be even worse :)

maggie moran said...

I was holding my breath when a reporter in Australia thought he could disprove Beah's A Long Way Gone, ~Becky. I love the book and I was relieved when it turned out to be a date. Who doesn't get dates wrong?!? Pshew! :)

I totally agree, Jeane. I agreed with you over at Sam Houston's blog, too! Truth is better when fictionalized! These aren't writers, they are con-artist, and should be prosecuted for scaming the reading public.

Nobody likes to be gullible, Paul. It makes the reader wary and less likely to spend on other memoirs. I just like my lies on the correct shelf. It's a library thing. :)

Oh, go ahead, Sage! Publishers seem to be lackadaisical (right now) in fact finding and your story may make millions. The key is to pen in another name. How do you feel about Sage Musial?!? ;D

sage said...

I was talking more about a difference of opinion in the truth--from my eyes and family eyes!

What reading challenge are you going to offer up this summer?

And thanks for the link to the shoes and encouraging a foot fetish. I think you'd look better in them heels than me on stilts :)

maggie moran said...

Got cha Sage. I was just messin wid ya. I loved Ricky Bragg's comment to our reading group. He said when he told his brother he was going to write the book-to his country face-he said, "and let's see if we can get some closure." Sounded so Oprahee we all laughed, but I bet instead he opened a can of worms. I was laughing with you, I promise.

Well, I've had one request for the Southern Reading Challenge. Would you do that again or BTDT?

Stilts look like so much fun, Sage! I may get hubby to make me a pair so I can aerate the lawn. ;D

sage said...

Just wear your heels--they should do a great job aerating the lawn!

Another Southern reading challenge would be okay--as well as maybe an international challenge--I've updated my Shelfair to include books on my to-read and wish list--I have some of both there.

You mentioned your granddaddy's tobacco barns? Where did he farm--were they flue-cured barns? I just posted another childhood memory--tobacco was big business back then.

Isabel said...

Pox on this false authors.

May their obits be the truth: they were liars in life.

maggie moran said...

Yes, WW100! A pox on them all! ;D

Tiffany Norris said...

I agree with Jeane--why not just publish it as fiction? Is it easier to get a "memoir" published? Grr.

maggie moran said...

Love the picture Tiffany! It is easier to sell a memoir. People love a good struggle and if it is true the reading public eats it up.

From reading what Margaret Seltzer says about the controversy, it is apparent she felt she was this person. Along the lines of...I repete it enough people will believe me. Grr is right!

Diane said...

They had class action lawsuits filed when it was discovered that Milli Vanilli were fake - I'm surprised some enterprising lawyer hasn't sued these folks, too

maggie moran said...

I like the fact that they are going to recall the book, Diane, like it is hazard to human health.

Um? All one needs is an eager lawyer and willing complainent who has read the book. *wringing hands* ;D

Anonymous said...

This post make me laugh. I know I should, but couldn't help it. Maybe I am asking too much, but shouldn't the publisher do a little background first?

Like the think with Oprah. My question was why didn't she have her team check Frey out first. It's not like she doesn't have the staff for this.

maggie moran said...

So, true J. Kaye! I guess publishers still live in a handshake and a smile world, while the rest of us read the fine lines. ;D

You know, I didn't realize I read so many memoirs until I wrote that piece. Matter-of-fact, I'm reading one now!