Jackie Gingrich Cushman

An older book, which was published in English in 1997, was also recently uncovered as fiction rather than fact.  “Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust years” by Misha Defonseca was a bestseller, translated into 18 languages and made into a feature film in France. 

Defonseca’s memoir discussed the seizure by Nazis of her parents when she was 4 years old, leading to her wandering in forests for four years and being raised by a pack of wolves that protected her.  This is quite an unusual, captivating story.

Defonseca is quoted in “Author: My bestselling Holocaust book is a hoax,” a Feburary 29 Associated Press story, stating "This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving."

Her memoir was published at the urging of publisher Jane Daniel, after Daniel heard Defonseca tell her story in a synagague.  Daniel was ordered by a Boston court in 2005 to pay Defonseca and her ghost writer $2.5 million from the profits on the book.  Evidently in this case, crime paid.

In their shared quest to be heard, Margaret Seltzer, James Frey and Misha Defonseca made up the truth – and tried to turn fiction into fact – in the cause of a greater truth. 

We have all been faced with the opportunity to spin a good yarn at some point in our lives.  Small children often make up stories, either to get out of trouble, or to get attention.  We often tell “white lies” in order to avoid hurting our friends, or to avoid dealing with disappointment.

The use of the parables in the Bible allows for the revelation of larger truths.  The truth is not of the details of the story itself – but the underlying truth that the story reveals.

While an anecdote can be an important and effective way to communicate – truth is not something that we believe in – it must also be true.  To label fiction as fact is deceptive and manipulative.

It’s unlikely that Cindi Seltzer’s gang memoir will be the last attempt by a writer to pass fiction off as truth, but the recent publication and rapid withdrawal of “Love and Consequences” reminds us to be skeptical, that a compelling story might not always be a true story. 

Beware of stories that sound too good to be true, they might not be.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.