As you might already be aware if you’ve seen the NYT, “Margaret B. Jones” lied about her background. She grew up wealthy, rather than poor. Her self-reported escapades and good deeds were lies.
And a Holocaust memoir published in 1997,”Misha: A MÃ©moire of the Holocaust Years”by Misha Defonseca, was also fake. Rather than literally living with wolves as a child during the Nazi occupation, the author admitted she isn’t Jewish as she had claimed, and that she spent the war in reasonably safe circumstances in Brussels.
And of course two years ago James Frey’s memoir,”A Million Little Pieces,” was found to contain made up or severely exaggerated details about the author’s drug addiction and recovery.
And JT Leroy, who supposedly was a young truck-stop prostitute who had escaped rural West Virginia for the dismal life of a homeless San Francisco drug addict, but was able to turn his terrible youth into a thriving career as a writer, was a fraud too. He didn’t even exist.
And then there was Asa Carter, a racist speech writer for George Wallace, the bestselling author of “The Education of Little Tree: A True Story,” a literary phenomenon published in the 1970s as a “true story,” even though rather than being a Cherokee orphan, Carter was a virulent white supremacist and segregationist from a privileged background.
Should publishers be held to a higher standard of care, to protect readers from this sort of opportunistic and exploitive fraud? Or should readers cynically assume all memoirs are ragingly dishonest? Certainly one needs to be wary of pseudonymous bloggers, see e.g. this great post, and also this, this, this, this, and this.