A memoir is discovered to be more fiction than fact, a scandal erupts, and the publisher cancels the book. How many times have we heard this story?
In this newest case, the book is a Holocaust memoir titled Angel at the Fence, the love story of Herman Rosenblat and his wife Roma. While Rosenblat was in fact in a concentration camp as a teenager, the love story that captured the imagination of his publisher, Oprah Winfrey, and a movie producer is false. Berkley Books, part of the Penguin group, just canceled the February publication of the book. No word yet on the fate of the planned movie.
You should read Gabriel Sherman’s New Republic article, “The Greatest Love Story Ever Sold,” and his follow-up piece, “Wartime Lies,” which uncovered the story and set the latest events in motion. You should also read Deborah Lipstadt’s series of blog posts titled “Apples over the Fence,” as she cast doubt on the story a year ago, was quoted in Sherman’s article, and has interesting information and commentary about this. Here’s the link to the Angel at the Fence website, and here’s the link to a statement from Rosenblat’s literary agent, Andrea Hurst.
Each time another false memoir scandal emerges, I ask the same question– why don’t publishers fact-check memoirs? I’ve always assumed that memoir was a form of biography and thus should be fact-checked. (I know you can’t fact-check every little detail, conversation, and memory, but shouldn’t the basic premise, events, and story be true?) Why, after James Frey, haven’t things changed at all? And the bigger question– why does a story become more interesting to publishers and readers when it is represented as truth rather than fiction?