Art and Entertainment


Gang Memoir the Latest Among Literary Fakes

May 25, 2008 12:27 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
When Margaret Seltzer’s sister saw a newspaper profile of purported former gang member “Margaret Jones,” a fraud was unmasked. But should readers be disappointed?

30-Second Summary

“Love and Consequences” was marketed as the memoir of a gang survivor named Margaret B. Jones. Reviewers were impressed, though the critic at Entertainment Weekly observed that “readers may wonder if Jones embellishes the dialogue.”

Seltzer defends her decision to lie. She said the story needed to be told and was based on accounts of real experiences. “I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it,” she said.

The faux memoir has prompted a debate in the publishing industry. While some argue that a book should be valued for its literary merit before factual accuracy, others suggest that publishers have a responsibility to be honest with their audience.

Such fabrications have a long history in the book business. In the late 18th century, English poet Thomas Chatterton passed his own work off as the verse of medieval “secular priest” Thomas Rowley. Chatterton despaired when he was unable to sell poems under his own name and, age 17, he took his own life.

More recently, James Frey was revealed to have duped readers, his patron Oprah Winfrey among them, with his fictionalized memoir “A Million Little Pieces.” And just a week before Seltzer’s memoir was exposed as a fake, author Misha Defonseca, whose real name is Monique De Wael, issued a statement admitting that the Holocaust memoir she published 11 years ago is fiction.

De Wael’s book, “Surviving with Wolves,” has just been turned into a film. The author continues to defend her work. “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish," said De Wael, who was born and raised a Catholic.

Headline Link: ‘Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction’

Background Links: Entertainment Weekly and Sarah McGrath

Opinions & Analysis: The value of telling stories

Related Topics: De Wael and Frey

Historical Context: Chatterton, the ‘Hitler Diaries’ and Clifford Irving


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines