An interesting article in the Los Angeles Times caught my attention yesterday. It read:
“In her book “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years,” Misha Defonseca wrote of her experience of being a young Jewish girl on her own during World War II, fleeing into the woods where she was adopted by wolves, and killing a Nazi soldier.
None of it was true.
Defonseca was not Jewish. Instead of being raised by wolves, she was in school in Belgium.
A Massachusetts judge has ordered Defonseca to return $22.5 million to independent publisher Mt. Ivy Press and its proprietor, Jane Daniel. Judge Marc Kantrowitz said it was “the third, and hopefully last” ruling in the case.
Although the book, published in 1997, never sold more than a few thousand copies in the U.S., it caught hold in Europe. In Italy, it became an opera, and it was made into the French film “Surviving With Wolves.”
Defonseca had told her story to the congregation at a Massachusetts temple before she agreed to write the book. When she finally admitted it was a fabrication in 2008, she explained, “This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving.”
Anne Lamott writes:
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted.”
Unfortunately, literary theft or plagiarism and lying has always been part of literature and the publishing world. And yet I think that plagiarism has never been as dominant before as it is today.
One such story is that of Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan, whose first novel “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life” (2006), secured her a $500,000 advance from Little, Brown. Kaavya’s book borrowed more than 40 passages from books by Megan McCafferty. As a consequence Little, Brown pulled copies of her book from bookstore shelves and withdrew Viswanathan’s publishing deal.
On the 30th of July 2012, the Media Decoder had posted online an article under the heading “Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book.”
Jonah Lehrer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, was accused of journalistic fraud. According to an article in Tablet magazine, Mr. Lehrer had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan in his best-selling book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works.”
To top it all off Mr. Lehrer had publicly apologized earlier for taking some of his articles from The Wall Street Journal, Wired, and other publications and recycling them in blog posts for The New Yorker. And of course his publisher pulled Imagine from the bookshelves.
Todd Gitlin (a professor at Columbia) said:
“Not only had Mr. Lehrer carved out a career in the popular niche of brain science, but he had created a persona that is perfectly suited to a 21st-century media environment.”
Is stardom or celebrity status so important to writers that they fabricate, lie and plagiarize in order to achieve it?
Leslie J. Waigner writes:
“Stop concentrating on the desire to be a star (that is, a bestseller, a prize-winner, etc.) those elements are out of both the writer’s and the editors control. Instead, concentrate on writing the best book possible.”