Literary Fraud: Crying With the Wind, Wolves and Menchu by C. Feldman

In the past few days the literary world -- or what passes for it in these days of outrageously high  advances to Democratic candidates and flacks for hagiographies and an utter paucity of fact checking  respecting all the stuff being churned out --  claims to be astonished at the latest news of more outright fraud.

We have a woman claiming to have been a child suckled by wolves or some such during the Holocaust  and a purported gang member who was in fact a nice middle class gal.

These latest unmaskings   follow on others, including "Crying Wind", "I Rigoberta Menchu", and "A Million Little Pieces".

The truth is that written as fiction, these stories, if well-done, should be every bit as compelling as the fake autobiographical tales readers were led to believe they are. And what I can't understand is why publishers would be interested in laying out money to the authors if these were autobiographical but not if they were, as they turn out to be, the apparently (I have not and do not intend to read these books)  well-told tales fashioned by  creative minds.

I am assuming that the publishing houses are not run by utter nitwits and that the decision to run with dramatic tales only if they  purport to be true tales of the oppressed is a reflection of something  they know about readers of modern literature. And I am assuming that surely someone out there has been oppressed and lived to tell the tale, although from the recent fraud-filled modern literary record I could be dead wrong on that.

What is it, I wonder, that makes a pretend tale of oppression and redemption so much more marketable to the book world than a well written story frankly purveyed as fiction?

I cannot think of any good reason. Dickens and Hugo have lasted through the ages and surely will be read and appreciated long after these puny literary counterfeits are forgotten.

Absent any logical distinction, I can only offer my guesses. If the book detailing oppression is a fiction novel, that means there is no actual oppression being documented, and until there is actual oppression it is a bit laughable to propose a government solution unless it is a virtual commission, new regulation and team of government fixer uppers you have in mind. 

Well, that covers a couple but not all the cases of fakery. I suspect in the others, we have to consider how books are peddled. The author today has to spend a great deal of time peddling his/her own work. And shows like Oprah are prime work arenas for them. The author has to get the show's host (or, often hostess) and audience crying tears -- sharing the pain as it were -- in order sell the book, and it's harder to do that when it's only fiction.

I am one of those people suspicious of any argument for action that is made on the basis of an emotional appeal alone. History proves my suspicion warranted, I maintain. And I carry this over to literature. If the story is worth reading, should it matter if it is honestly tagged as fiction or dishonestly peddled as non-fiction? "Was it a good read?" should be the test.

I suspect these were not, and but for the hamming it up and the author's teary, bleary appearances on shows that promote this kind of stuff, it is likely they'd never have gotten off the sellers' bookshelves in the first place.

So, I offer this up as a suggestion to the publishers. Before buying the book, offer it to two of your best readers. Tell one it's fiction. Tell the other it's autobiographical. And don't buy it unless both agree it's worth doing. Or keep doing what you're doing and claim embarrassment every few months as another fraud is uncovered.

Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washignton, DC
In the past few days the literary world -- or what passes for it in these days of outrageously high  advances to Democratic candidates and flacks for hagiographies and an utter paucity of fact checking  respecting all the stuff being churned out --  claims to be astonished at the latest news of more outright fraud.

We have a woman claiming to have been a child suckled by wolves or some such during the Holocaust  and a purported gang member who was in fact a nice middle class gal.

These latest unmaskings   follow on others, including "Crying Wind", "I Rigoberta Menchu", and "A Million Little Pieces".

The truth is that written as fiction, these stories, if well-done, should be every bit as compelling as the fake autobiographical tales readers were led to believe they are. And what I can't understand is why publishers would be interested in laying out money to the authors if these were autobiographical but not if they were, as they turn out to be, the apparently (I have not and do not intend to read these books)  well-told tales fashioned by  creative minds.

I am assuming that the publishing houses are not run by utter nitwits and that the decision to run with dramatic tales only if they  purport to be true tales of the oppressed is a reflection of something  they know about readers of modern literature. And I am assuming that surely someone out there has been oppressed and lived to tell the tale, although from the recent fraud-filled modern literary record I could be dead wrong on that.

What is it, I wonder, that makes a pretend tale of oppression and redemption so much more marketable to the book world than a well written story frankly purveyed as fiction?

I cannot think of any good reason. Dickens and Hugo have lasted through the ages and surely will be read and appreciated long after these puny literary counterfeits are forgotten.

Absent any logical distinction, I can only offer my guesses. If the book detailing oppression is a fiction novel, that means there is no actual oppression being documented, and until there is actual oppression it is a bit laughable to propose a government solution unless it is a virtual commission, new regulation and team of government fixer uppers you have in mind. 

Well, that covers a couple but not all the cases of fakery. I suspect in the others, we have to consider how books are peddled. The author today has to spend a great deal of time peddling his/her own work. And shows like Oprah are prime work arenas for them. The author has to get the show's host (or, often hostess) and audience crying tears -- sharing the pain as it were -- in order sell the book, and it's harder to do that when it's only fiction.

I am one of those people suspicious of any argument for action that is made on the basis of an emotional appeal alone. History proves my suspicion warranted, I maintain. And I carry this over to literature. If the story is worth reading, should it matter if it is honestly tagged as fiction or dishonestly peddled as non-fiction? "Was it a good read?" should be the test.

I suspect these were not, and but for the hamming it up and the author's teary, bleary appearances on shows that promote this kind of stuff, it is likely they'd never have gotten off the sellers' bookshelves in the first place.

So, I offer this up as a suggestion to the publishers. Before buying the book, offer it to two of your best readers. Tell one it's fiction. Tell the other it's autobiographical. And don't buy it unless both agree it's worth doing. Or keep doing what you're doing and claim embarrassment every few months as another fraud is uncovered.

Clarice Feldman is an attorney in Washignton, DC