Monday, December 29, 2008

Deception in Publishing

You've probably heard by now of the scandal surrounding this book, Angel at the Fence, by Herman Rosenblat. The book was set to be published in February, is being made into a film, and had been touted by The Oprah. It seems that Mr. Rosenblat fabricated parts of his memoir; there was no boy at any fence and no young girl tossing him apples. As it turns out, the book will not be published.

This reminds me of the James Frey scandal a few years ago; The Oprah endorsed Mr. Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces, and was then humiliated when it came out that he had embellished parts of his story.

In both cases, it seems, the essential story was true. Part of the fault lies in the books being published as "memoir" rather than fiction. I've not read Angel a the Fence, but I did read Mr. Frey's book. I read his book AFTER the deception was revealed, so I was not one of those souls that felt "lied to" or "deceived" by Mr. Frey. I just found it to be a riveting good read. He has a bizarre writing style, to be sure, but it was such a good story; so much so that I went out and bought My Friend Leonard, the sequel, and cried through that one. I think even after it was revealed that he had fabricated parts of A Million Little Pieces, lots of folks that hadn't read it (like me) went out and bought it just to see what all the fuss was about.

I suspect Angel at the Fence is also a really great read and I hope that the publisher can find a way to actually get the book out. Who is at fault here? Yes, Mr. Rosenblat was not totally forthcoming. I'm not excusing his actions of deception; but, didn't the publsihing house have an obligation to do some fact-checking? Especially after the Frey scandal? (It wasn't the same publisher.) The genre of memoir was under such scrutiny after that. Should we move Mr. Frey's book to fiction or leave it in non-fiction? Hmmmmm. It's essentially lying to call it non-fiction.

Anyway, Mr. Rosenblat's intentions were good. In a statement released by Rosenblat, he said, "I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people," he wrote in the statement. "I brought good feelings to a lot of people and I brought hope to many. My motivation was to make good in this world."

The Holocaust has provided fodder for many decepetive memoirs (Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years comes to mind), and that's a shame. As one who has heard true stories of survival from real Holocaust survivors (Rose and Louis Van Thyn for example) I know there are true, heart-warming stories there than can convey the same message Mr. Rosenblat was trying to say: Don't hate anyone.

I remember when Rose Van Thyn was asked if she forgave the Nazis, she said that it wasn't up to her to forgive, it was up to God.

At any rate, there is enough truth in Mr. Rosenblat's story that I hope it is still published, although probably under the fiction label!


Anonymous said...

How awful that the Rosenblats lied about their story and that the publishers and movie makers fell for it. Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which was a great book and now movie, never pretended to be true. The Rosenblats, like Madoff, are harming the good Jewish name and it's terrible.

I read a New York Times article about Stan Lee and Neal Adams the comic book artists supporting another TRUE Holocaust love story. There was a beautiful young artist, Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, who painted Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on the children's barracks at Auschwitz to cheer them up. Dina's art became the reason she and her Mother survived Auschwitz.

Painting the mural for the children caused Dina to be taken in front of Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death. She thought she was going to be gassed, but bravely she stood up to Mengele and he decided to make her his portrait painter, saving herself and her mother from the gas chamber as long as she was doing painting for him.

Dina's story is true because some of the paintings she did for Mengele in Auschwitz survived the war and are at the Auschwitz Birkenau Museum. Also, the story of her painting the mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the children's barrack has been corroborated by many other Auschwitz prisoners, and of course her love and marriage to the animator of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the Disney movie after the war in Paris is also a fact.

I wish Oprah would do a story about Dina and her art not about the Rosenblats who were pulling the wool over all our eyes.

Pat Austin Becker said...

I had never heard that story! That's awesome! Thanks so much for telling me about it. And you are right - it's stories like that that everyone should know about.

Since I posted this I see that the children's book based on Rosenblat's story has also been scrubbed. Good thing.

I didn't see the Boy in the Striped Pajamas; it aired here recently but I missed it.

I think on the whole Rosenblat thing - if, as you said, he never pretended that it was true, then things would be different. The whole lie of it all just insults and wounds everyone.