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Fake memoirs form a category of literary forgery in which a wholly or partially fabricated autobiography, memoir or journal of an individual is presented as fact. Often, the purported author of the work also is fabricated. In recent years, there have been a number of such memoirs published by major publishers, some of which were well received critically and even became best sellers, but which subsequently were shown to be partly or completely fabricated. Three of the authors, James Frey (A Million Little Pieces), Anthony Godby Johnson (A Rock and a Hard Place) and Herman Rosenblat (prior to writing his Angel at the Fence), appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, only to have their books subsequently exposed as fabrications. [1]

A number of recent fake memoirs fall into the category of "misery lit," where the author claims to have overcome illness, abuse, drug or alcohol addiction or other serious trauma. Several similarly are fabricated stories of supposed Holocaust survivors.

As a result of the recent series of best seller memoirs that have turned out to be fabricated, there have been calls for stronger vetting of new authors and fact checking of their books. [2] The publicity about fabricated memoirs inspired one author, Andrea Troy, to write an admittedly "fake memoir" entitled "Daddy-An Absolutely Authentic Fake Memoir", published in November 2008.

List of fake memoirs and journals

  • JT LeRoy (pseud. Laura Victoria Albert) published a number of fabricated writings (c. 2005) in which LeRoy was presented as a transgendered, sexually questioning, abused, former homeless teenage drug addict and male prostitute.
  • James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, Doubleday Books (2003), a best selling memoir in which the author created and exaggerated significant details of his drug addiction and recovery. The author appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in September 2005, the book became an Oprah's Book Club selection. [5]
  • Norma Khouri, Forbidden Love (also published as Honor Lost in the United States), Bantam Books, Australia (2003); Doubleday, New York (2003), is the supposed story of her best friend in Jordan, Dalia, who fell in love with a Christian soldier. Dalia's Muslim father was not told of the relationship, and when he eventually discovered it, he stabbed Dalia to death in a so-called honor killing.
  • Michael Gambino (actually Michael Pelligrino) wrote the The Honored Society, Simon & Schuster (2001). The book, supposedly by the grandson of Mafioso Carlo Gambino, described his life as a gangster, including spending 12 years in prison for bribery, gambling, extortion, kidnapping, money laundering, murder and pimping. Carlo Gambino’s real son, Thomas Gambino, exposed the fraud, and the publisher withdrew the book.
  • Misha Defonseca (real name: Monique de Wael), Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, Mt. Ivy Press (1997), a fabricated memoir of a supposed Holocaust survivor who walked 1900 miles across Europe searching for her parents, killed a German officer in self-defense and lived with a pack of wolves. The work was a best seller, translated into 18 languages and was made into a movie. [6]
  • Helen Demidenko (pseud. Helen Dale), wrote The Hand That Signed the Paper, Allen & Unwin, Australia (1994). presented as a supposedly autobiographical story of a student’s discovery of her family's bleak wartime history as peasants in Ukraine under Stalinism and their “liberation” by the Nazi invasion. The book won a number of awards.
  • Anthony Godby Johnson wrote A Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy's Triumphant Story, Crown Books, New York; Little Brown, London (1993), a story of a young boy, sexually abused by his parents and later adopted, who discovers he is HIV-positive and who develops AIDS. This book has been challenged on a number of accounts and has been alleged to be the fictional product of Vicki Johnson, also known as Vicki Fraginals Zackheim. "Tony," the subject of the book, made an "apppearance" on the Oprah Winfrey Show, interviewed with his face obscured. [8]
  • Marlo Morgan wrote Mutant Message Down Under, MM Co. (self-published), Lees Summit, Missouri (1991); Harper Collins, New York (1994). The book claimed to be a memoir of her time spent with Aboriginals. The book has caused protests by Aboriginal groups. Parts of it have been asserted to be invented and the publisher has reissued it labeled as fiction. [9][10]
  • Lauren Stratford (actually Laurel Rose Willson) wrote Satan's Underground, Harvest House, Oregon (1988), purporting to tell a true story of her upbringing in a Satanic cult, but later branded as fabricated. She later assumed the guise of a Holocaust survivor, and adopted the alias of Laura Grabowski.
  • David Rorvik wrote In His Image: the Cloning of a Man, J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York (1978), in which he claimed to have been part of a successful endeavor to create a clone of a human being. A court, in a defamation suit found the book was a hoax which the publisher subsequently acknowledged, but Rorvik continues to maintain it is truthful. [11]
  • Anonymous (actually Beatrice Sparks), Go Ask Alice, Prentice-Hall (1971), purportedly the diary of an anonymous teenage girl who died of a drug overdose in the late 1960s. Sparks is known for producing a number of books purporting to be the "real diaries" of troubled teenagers.
  • Carlos Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his training in traditional Mesoamerican shamanism, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan, University of California Press (1968). His 12 books have sold more than 8 million copies in 17 languages. It is disputed whether his stories are truthful or fabricated.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche My Sister and I (1951), supposedly written in 1889 or early 1890 during Nietzsche's stay in a mental asylum, this fictitious biography makes several bold and otherwise unreported claims, most notably of an incestuous relationship between Nietzsche and his sister.
  • John Knyveton The Diary of a Surgeon in the Year 1751-1752, edited and transcribed by Ernest Gray, New York, D. Appleton-Century (1938). Some believe the diary is a forgery and possibly a fictitious rehandling of the memoirs of Thomas Denman, 1733-1815. [13]
  • Joan Lowell's Cradle of the Deep (1929), published by Simon & Schuster, claimed that, before she was even a year old, her sea captain father took her away from her ailing mother to live on the Minnie A. Caine, a trading ship. She lived on the ship, with its all male crew, until she was 17. The book ends with the ship burning and sinking off Australia, and with Lowell swimming three miles to safety, with a family of kittens clinging by their claws to her back. In fact, Lowell had been on the ship, which remained safe in California, for only 15 months. The book was a sensational best seller until it was exposed as pure invention. [14]
  • Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance, actually Sylvester Clark Long, wrote an autobiography entitled Long Lance (1928), published by Cosmopolitan Book Company, in which he claimed to have been born a Blackfoot, son of a chief, in Montana's Sweetgrass Hills, was wounded eight times in the Great War and promoted to the rank of captain. In fact, the story was fabricated and Lance was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
  • Edmund Backhouse wrote China Under the Empress Dowager: being the History of the Life and Times of Tzu Hsi, Compiled from State Papers and the Private Diary of the Comptroller of her Household, London, Heinemann; Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. (1910). The diary on which the book was based was later shown to have been fabricated by Backhouse.
  • Philip Aegidius Walshe (actually Montgomery Carmichael), The Life of John William Walshe, F.S.A., London, Burns & Oates, (1901); New York, E. P. Dutton (1902), a son’s story of his father’s life in Italy as “a profound mystic and student of everything relating to St. Francis of Assisi.” In fact the son, the father and the memoir were all invented by Montgomery Carmichael. [15]
  • Davy Crockett, Col. Crockett's exploits and adventures in Texas: wherein is contained a full account of his journey from Tennessee to the Red River and Nathchitoches, and thence across Texas to San Antonio; including many hair-breadth escapes; together with a topographical, historical, and political view of Texas ... Written by Himself, T.K. and P.G. Collins, Philadelphia (1836). Supposedly Crockett’s journal taken at the Alamo by Mexican General Castrillón and then recovered at the Battle of San Jacinto, but in fact written by Richard Penn Smith and Charles T. Beale. [16] The work has been called "ingenious pseudo-autobiography." [17]
  • Maria Monk Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk : as Exhibited in a Narrative of Her Sufferings During a Residence of Five Years as a Novice, and Two Years as a Black Nun, in the Hôtel-Dieu Nunnery at Montreal, Howe & Bates, New York (1836). The book is a wildly sensationalistic story of life in a Montreal convent where nuns were forced to have sex with the priests in the seminary next door. The book may have been written by Theodore Dwight, John J. Slocum or William K. Hoyte. [18]

See also


  1. ^ Motoko Rich and Brian Stelter, "As Another Memoir Is Faked, Trust Suffers", New York Times, Dec. 30, 2008.
  2. ^ "Lies and Consequences: Tracking the Fallout of (Another) Literary Fraud", New York Times, Mar. 5, 2008, p. B1. See also "A Family Tree of Literary Fakers," New York Times, Mar. 8, 2008, p. A17.
  3. ^ "Publication of disputed Holocaust memoir canceled". Associated Press. 2008-12-27. Retrieved 2008-12-28.  
  4. ^ New York Times article
  5. ^ Oprah's Grand Delusion
  6. ^ Holocaust Book Hoax See also [1]
  7. ^ Renata Salecl, Why One Would Pretend to be a Victim of the Holocaust: The Wilkomirski Memoir.
  8. ^ Excerpt Four: Revealing a Literary Hoax: The Strange Case of Anthony Godby Johnson
  9. ^ Review by Michael Kisor
  10. ^ BOOK NEWS Other literary hoaxes, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 9, 2008
  11. ^ The Cloning of a Man
  12. ^ The Education of Little Tree and Forrest Carter
  13. ^ Eugene L. Rasor, English/British Naval History to 1815: A Guide to the Literature (2004) p. 226. See also The Diary Research Website.
  14. ^ Colby, Anne (2008-3-14). "Meet the grandmother of memoir fabricators". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-12-31.  
  15. ^ Saturday Review of Books, September 1, 1906, p. BR537.
  16. ^ Howes, US-IANA, S654
  17. ^ Richard R. Flores, Remembering the Alamo : Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol, Univ. of Texas (2002), p. 139.
  18. ^ New York Herald, Aug. 12, 1836, p.2, col. 1 ; The Colophon, pt. 17, 1934.

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