From the New York Times, a brief note telling us that Misha Defonseca’s Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years (1997) is not a memoir but a novel. Her story still sounds sad enough.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Ms. Defonseca said: "The story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving. I ask forgiveness to all who felt betrayed. I beg you to put yourself in my place, of a 4-year-old girl who was very lost." Ms. Defonseca, who gave her real name as Monique De Wael, said her parents were arrested and killed by Nazis for Belgian resistance activities when she was 4; she was cared for by her grandfather and uncle.
Is it more depressing when fake memoirs deal with the heavy subjects than trivial matters? Certainly. Though there are exceptions, most people aren’t as angry at an author when they learn his wacky family wasn’t quite as wacky as depicted as they are when they learn that his empathy-earning tale of woe was manufactured.
Then again, the truth behind the lies is often murky. Defonseca may not have been raised by wolves, but if her parents really were killed by the Nazis, that could have caused a lifetime of psychic damage, and her fake memoir can be viewed partly in light of that. (Just as Ishmael Beah’s inaccuracies, whether great or small, don’t negate the larger circumstances of his story.)
But for calculating personalities–those who want to tell a big lie and reap some big rewards–the big tragedies have got to be the most tempting.
Update: More details in the Boston Globe (“Author admits making up memoir of surviving holocaust,” by David Mehegan).