Wednesday, March 05, 2008

False Memory--veinglory

There have been a lot of false memoirs exposed recently. It turns out Margaret Jones was not a mixed-race, gang affiliated foster kid.

Back in February we found out Misha Defonseca was not a Holocaust survivor, so sue me I think the 'adopted by a pack of wolves' bit of that story should have tipped a few people off.

Oh, and around the same time is was discovered that Ishmael Beah's story of being a child soldier in Sierre Leone may be somewhat exaggerated too, a revelation sparked by the appearance of the "orphan's" father.

Why are people outraged? Isn't a story a good story regardless? I would argue: no. It is a timely reminder that a book is not just an object. It is also a promise, a request for trust. We promise the book with be technically acceptable, physically sturdy, moderately entertaining and match the description in the blurb.

That includes, for memoirs, that they will be substantially true.


click clack gorilla said...

I find this to be a rather complicated issue. In that questions start bubbling around in my head like: aren't all writers, on some level, propagandists? (though often the only message is "this is who i am") How "true" can a memoir every be, as a compilation of anecdotes and the like from memory are bound to be flawed and colored by time and retrospect and all that? But I suppose that I agree that calling it a memoir makes a number of promises that should make the information inside at least more or less true. Hmmm.

chris-gerrib said...

Click Clack - it's one thing for facts to be filtered through somebody's imperfect perception and quite another to make stuff up from whole cloth.

Sheryl Nantus said...

at a recent bookstore signing I talked to the manager about this and she told me "We now shelve any memoir as fiction. That's how it's catalogued now."