Nobody is still reeling over the news that the release of Herman Rosenblat's Holocaust memoir, Angel at the Fence, has been canceled. There have been so many lying memoirists attempting to publish their forgeries and fibs in the last few years, it seems like anyone who follows literary news, casually or closely, is positively deadened to the unmasking of a fraud author by this point. So why does this keep happening?
When The New Republic broke the story last week, it's safe to say it was only a matter of time before Rosenblat came clean or something big came to light. Like James Frey before him, the man had charmed Oprah, not to mention readers of Chicken Soup for the Soul and countless romantics with his story: he claimed he met his wife as a child imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. She, disguised as a Christian farm girl, tossed apples over the camp's fence to him. Years later, they met, and realized how closely their histories had been intwined. Hope flourished. People believed.
People, yes, including the two that helped float his charming tale of love that conquers all into mainstream consciousness: Rosenblat's agent Angela Hurst, and his editor at Berekely, Natalee Rosenstein. "He was in so many magazines and books and on âOprah.' It did not seem like it would not be true," Hurst told the Times' Mokoto Rich on Sunday. Hurst's willingness to buy into a story Rosenblat concocted to win a newspaper contest -- and later, as he lamely excused it, to "make good in this world" -- even had Rich, who often covers this beat, throwing up her hands in understandable frustration throughout her account of the scandal. "This latest literary hoax is likely to trigger yet more questions as to why the publishing industry has such a poor track record of fact-checking," she wrote.
Repercussions and movie deals aside, this is truly the crux of the matter. So we have often asked ourselves, as other past incidents have played themselves out, why, indeed, the publishing industry hasn't gotten better at this, when they manage to put so much energy into buying celebrity-fueled essay collections and hyping debuts that probably shouldn't have hit shelves before a few more rounds of edits. Memoirs, particularly ones that feature the writer overcoming great, universally specific, insurmountable odds, are an attractive sell for both struggling publishers and striving writers. The driving urge to find the perfect book that will essentially launch itself, to nudge it along without properly questioning what's beneath it, is a bit like taking an smart kid with a lot of potential and disastrous social skills and forcing them to skip a few grades. You hope that, in the end, their narrative will play out in a way that benefits everyone. But with so much at stake, is that a worthwhile risk?
While publishing houses do have to push and publicize buzzy, hype-packaged books in order to print the ones that might actually matter in a quieter, more organic way, it's endlessly saddening to us that the authors who seem to receive all the flurried, breathless, OMFG can you believe it re-capped press, long long long after their books have been pulled or rebranded as a novel. Years after they've destroyed their careers or tried to transcend it, the ones who have lied and deceived everyone from their publisher to their eager readers are still being talked about, instead of the deserving writers who tell their stories accurately, or know they can't be labeled as anything but fiction inspired by life.
So, the liars: they may not be getting positive attention, but in our current publishing environment, bsh plz. It still means a great deal.
And man, that shit is effed.
"Wartime Lies" [TNR]
"False Memoir of Holocaust Is Canceled" [NYT]