Saturday, March 01, 2008

And Nothing but the Truth

The story broken today that Misha Defonseca, who was born Monique De Wael, had fabricated most of her best-selling autobiography, ‘Surviving with Wolves,’ should come as no surprise to those of us that dwell in the murky depths of biographies and autobiographies. It won’t be the first time that the tide has gone out on the truth and exposed the claimants to ridicule.
In this case, it seems to have made Mrs. Defonseca a millionaire, although her publisher, Jane Daniel, is understandably aggrieved at having been duped. She is suing for £11 million which may take some of the sparkle off the fairy cake.
After World War II there was a spate of memoirs by allegedly SOE agents, conveniently shielded by the Official Secrets Act from any forensic investigation into the truth or otherwise of their exciting adventures.
The most enterprising of these must be a Ms. Roxanne Pitt, who accomplished the notable feat of selling her purely fictitious story to two publishers with only the slightest change in the details of her heroic exploits behind enemy lines.
As far as is known, she never set foot outside of the British Isles during the conflict.
More recently, a tear-jerking memoir of growing up in a poverty stricken Irish household came to grief when a neighbour happened to chance upon the book. The author’s sense of the dramatic had, he claims, run away with her.
Two years ago I was commissioned by a Romanian immigrant to Britain to write his story for him. His spoken English was good but, understandably, he was not up to putting it down on paper.
I first interviewed him at a luxurious penthouse mayfair apartment and, as usual, videoed his story which told of his leaving home at 17 and walking across Europe, looking for a better life. En route he had joined the Foreign Legion and suffered incredible hardships before reaching England on a forged passport. It sounded a good story although he didn’t look to me like a man who had suffered too much! He was young, slim and charming.
He claimed to own two apartments in London and we wheeled around town in either his Range Rover or his BMW as I proceeded to tape his story over the next few months.
His present prosperity at the early age of 26 came, he said, from an up-market art gallery in Mayfair. But in spite of a number of requests, we somehow always seemed to miss going down the street to visit it.
Finally, we got to the stage in his story where, having arrived in London, he earned his living by selling drugs. He hastily said that, no, he was too smart to have been a user. I pointed out that such a means of livelihood would not only be frowned upon by his reading public but would also lead to his having his collar felt by the Metropolitan Police.
He seemed to lose interest in the business after that and, as you might guess, the art gallery was a figment of his imagination.
So writers of biographies need to take care. When the eminent biographer, Philip Ziegler was commissioned to write the biography of Lord Mountbatten, mindful of his lordship’s colourful past he asked, diplomatically, what should he leave out?
“Put it all in, warts and all,” said Mountbatten, cheerfully.
Unfortunately, not all recounters of their lives are as honourable.


Blogger Peter Rogerson said...

hello there,

Im an english author whos has penned some 17 books, im just really putting the feelers out for similar minded people

4:49 pm  
Anonymous John said...

Roxanne Pitt was the writing name of Albertina Crico who did work for the allies in WW2. For more information see Federico M. Mucioli 'Il registro della spia – Le molte vite della professoressa Tina Crico' published 2007 - in Italian unfortunarely.

1:56 pm  

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