Memoirs: Fact or Fiction?

Over the past week, another (in this case, not yet published) memoir made the headlines for fabricating content. The release of the Holocaust memoir Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived was canceled by its publisher after the author Herman Rosenblat admitted he made up part of the story. A children’s book came out last fall based on his story (Angel Girl by Laurie Friedman) and its publisher is offering refunds to those who return their copy.

A Million Little Pieces book jacket

This literary scandal is by no means the first. Remember the James Frey fracas about his addiction memoir, A Million Little Pieces, selected by Oprah Winfrey’s book club? Other authors and books rocked by the same issue include, Love and Consequences by Margaret B. Jones. This coming-of-age gang memoir set in South Central L.A. turned out to be written by a woman who admitted the book was completely fabricated. Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years by Misha Defonseca was also identified as a fake. And the American Indian writer Nasdijj, author of several memoirs, including the critically-acclaimed The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, is actually a white man named Tim Barrus.

As a fan of memoirs, I wonder why these authors didn’t submit their writing as works of fiction. Why insist on veracity? Novels tell a different sort of truth, but with a freedom not found in memoirs.

What do you think about fake memoirs? Should memoirs be marketed as nonfiction? How does a memoir that turns out not to be true affect you as a reader?

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Angela Kille

Angela Kille is the Web Content Developer at the Kansas City Public Library.