Fake memoirs  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Fake memoirs are a category of literary mystification in which a wholly or partially fabricated memoir or journal of an individual is presented as fact. Sometimes, the purported author of the work also is fabricated. In recent years, there have been a number of such memoirs published by major publishers, some of which were well received critically and even became best sellers, but which subsequently were shown to be partly or completely fabricated.

Novels presented as memoirs also fall into this category, as well as epistolary novels.

20th century

A number of recent fake memoirs fall into the category of "misery lit," where the author claims to have overcome illness, abuse, drug or alcohol addiction or other serious trauma. Several similarly are fabricated stories of supposed Holocaust survivors.

As a result of the recent series of best seller memoirs that have turned out to be fabricated, there have been calls for stronger vetting of new authors and fact checking of their books.

List of Fake Memoirs and Journals

(In reverse chronological order.)

  • Margaret B. Jones (pseud. Margaret Seltzer), Love and Consequences, Riverhead Books (a division of Penguin Group USA) (2008), a critically received memoir of a girl, part white and part native American, growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child in a world of drug dealers and gang members. In fact, the work was completely fabricated.
  • JT LeRoy (pseud. Laura Victoria Albert) published a number of fabricated writings (c. 2005) in which LeRoy was presented as a transgendered, sexually questioning, abused, former homeless teenage drug addict and male prostitute
  • Norma Khouri, Forbidden Love (also published as Honor Lost in the United States), Bantam Books, Australia (2003); Doubleday, New York (2003), is the story of her best friend in Jordan, Dalia, who fell in love with a Christian soldier. Dalia's Muslim father was not told of the relationship, and when he eventually discovered it, he stabbed Dalia to death in a so-called honor killing.
  • Michael Gambino (actually Michael Pelligrino) wrote the The Honored Society, Simon & Schuster (2001). The book, supposedly by the grandson of Mafioso Carlo Gambino, described his life as a gangster, including spending 12 years in prison for bribery, gambling, extortion, kidnapping, money laundering, murder and pimping. Carlo Gambino’s real son, Thomas Gambino, exposed the fraud, and the publisher withdrew the book.
  • Misha Defonseca (real name: Monique de Wael), Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, Mt. Ivy Press (1997), a fabricated memoir of a supposed Holocaust survivor who walked 1900 miles across Europe searching for her parents, killed a German officer in self-defense and lived with a pack of wolves. The work was a best seller, translated into 18 languages and was made into a movie.
  • Helen Demidenko (pseud. Helen Dale), wrote The Hand That Signed the Paper, Allen & Unwin, Australia (1994). presented as a supposedly autobiographical story of a student’s discovery of her family's bleak wartime history as peasants in Ukraine under Stalinism and their “liberation” by the Nazi invasion. The book won a number of awards.
  • Anonymous (actually Beatrice Sparks), Go Ask Alice, Prentice-Hall (1971), purportedly the diary of an anonymous teenage girl who died of a drug overdose in the late 1960s. Sparks is known for producing a number of books purporting to be the "real diaries" of troubled teenagers.
  • Carlos Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his training in traditional Mesoamerican shamanism, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan, University of California Press (1968). His 12 books have sold more than 8 million copies in 17 languages. It is disputed whether his stories are truthful or fabricated.
  • Edmund Backhouse wrote China Under the Empress Dowager: being the History of the Life and Times of Tzu Hsi, Compiled from State Papers and the Private Diary of the Comptroller of her Household, London, Heinemann; Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. (1910). The diary on which the book was based was later shown to have been fabricated by Backhouse.
  • Maria Monk Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk : as Exhibited in a Narrative of Her Sufferings During a Residence of Five Years as a Novice, and Two Years as a Black Nun, in the Hôtel-Dieu Nunnery at Montreal, Howe & Bates, New York (1836). The book is a wildly sensationalistic story of life in a Montreal convent where nuns were forced to have sex with the priests in the seminary next door. The book may have been written by Theodore Dwight, John J. Slocum or William K. Hoyte.


See also

literary mystification, unreliable narrator, memoir, histories (history of the novel), false document, Dubious and scandalous histories, 1660-1720




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Fake memoirs" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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