In the High Peaks

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Authenticity and Memoir

I know the fates are against me completing this blog entry this evening. Ken is late for dinner returning from the Indian Lake region, and it's raining, so who knows when he'll pull in to the driveway. Could be any minute.

I began an investigation of the big bestseller from 2008 and 2009, A Long Way Gone. Many, many Australian reporters contested the authenticity of the memoir by Ishmael Beah, the boy soldier in Sierra Leone who later immigrated to the U.S.

The Australians don't say that he completely fabricated, but they adjure that the facts show he was only a boy soldier for about two months, not two years. To make a personal judgement one way or the other, one would have to pour over the reporters' articles and conduct additional research.

The publisher, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, and Beah's agent deny all of the Australians' accusations. Whatever the reality, the book is an excellent case study in what I call the "Challenges to Authenticity Syndrome," an affliction which a number of memoirists have suffered. Of course there was the James Frey A Million Little Pieces fiasco, but despite the fact that he admitted fabricating, the book continued to sell very well.

What's your take on the authenticity issue in memoirs?

1 comment:

  1. I think that memoirs should be as honest and truthful as possible, otherwise they're straying into the realms of fiction.
    I know plenty of ordinary people who re-write their history to suit themselves,I even find that very annoying.
    Sometimes people just mis-remember things. I read Gore Vidal's book Palimpsest, on that subject, if I'm remembering correctly!