The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014
Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology
The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious
: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain
April 14, 2014
Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time
: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic
: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships
: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin
: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate
: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
April 11, 2014
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden
: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does
: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer
: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You
April 9, 2014
Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?
Samuel G. Freedman
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
April 8, 2014
Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease
Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear
April 4, 2014
A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children
Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet
Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds
Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves
April 2, 2014
Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?
Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities
It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene
Jewish World Review
March 12, 2008
/ 5 Adar II 5768
Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
Thanks to chance and circumstance because people left them, sent them, or lent them a trio of autobiographies landed on my desk last weekend: Valerie Plame's Fair Game: My Life As a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, George Tenet's At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, and Peter Gay's My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin. Though Plame and Tenet were published in 2007, and Gay in 1998, I hadn't read any of them before.
Motivation to pick them up was, however, provided by Margaret B. Jones and Misha Defonseca. For those who missed their stories, Jones, a half-Indian drug-dealing gang member who grew up in foster homes, according to her well-received memoir, last week turned out to be Margaret Seltzer, an all-white suburbanite who grew up with her family. Defonseca, a Jew who survived the Holocaust by living with wolves, according to her acclaimed autobiography, is in fact Monique De Wael, a Catholic who spent the war in Brussels. The two revelations coming in the wake of JT Leroy, James Frey, Binjamin Wilkomirski, and other hoaxes inspired much criticism of the publishing industry (why do they fall for it? why don't they fact-check?) and some excellent parodies.
But maybe these extreme examples should inspire some other questions, too. How "true," for example, are real autobiographies, written by real people, describing real events? Coincidentally, I was first taught to ask this question by Gay, now an emeritus professor of history, during a seminar on autobiography that he taught some 20-odd years ago. As I recall it, we were debating Rousseau's Confessions when Gay pointed out some element of the story that could not possibly have been true. He then invited us to think about why, in that case, Rousseau had changed it. For unconscious emotional reasons? Or consciously, in order to shape his reputation?
Reading Gay's own idiosyncratic autobiography, it's evident that he had such historical uses and abuses of autobiography in mind while he was writing it. During his account of growing up in, and emigration from, 1930s Berlin, he frequently questions both his recollections and his motives for recording them. He confesses to prejudices most notably a hatred for the Nazi regime that might color his account of his pre-Nazi early childhood. He admits to important gaps in his memory.
By contrast, Tenet's and Plame's books show no such hesitations, no such uncertainties, and certainly admit to no prejudice. Tenet does concede that "no such undertaking is completely objective," but he calls his book "as honest and as unvarnished as I could make it." Plame doesn't even go that far, offering instead, by way of introduction, a rollicking account of her CIA recruitment (and, bizarrely, a very large number of irrelevant childhood photographs).
But I have no intention of picking on Tenet and Plame, much though they might deserve it, just because I stumbled on their books last weekend. After all, what struck me about their memoirs was not their uniqueness, but their very similarity to other books in the "political memoir" genre, recent examples of which include the autobiographies of both Clintons; Leadership, by Rudy Giuliani; No Retreat, No Surrender, by Tom DeLay; and The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama (but not his first, quirky, pre-fame book, Dreams From My Father), just to name an arbitrary few.
Beyond "setting the record straight," none of these books was ever intended to have deeper literary or historical significance. They don't do careful self-analysis, but neither do they add much to the bigger picture. They don't necessarily lie, but they are intended to shape public perceptions of the author, which is why many read like extended versions of those candidate-life-story films one sees nowadays at political conventions. Some I'm thinking here of Bill Clinton's hefty memoir seem designed to decorate coffee tables, not to be read at all.
So, why don't the publishers who produce them come in for more criticism? And why aren't authors more often parodied? ("He achieved peace in Northern Ireland, fixed the American health-care crisis, and singlehandedly dismantled the New York City trash collection mafia all the while remaining a perfect husband and father and never accepting a single penny from lobbyists …")
Or maybe the publishing industry shouldn't get all the blame. We've all gotten used to the idea that life stories can be "sold," that lives that contain accidents, deviations, and inexplicable moments of uncertainty as all lives do can be crafted, shaped, and presented to the public by marketing specialists and yet still remain "true." No wonder we're so easily taken in, nowadays, by fraudsters, hucksters, fake drug dealers, and children who claim to have been raised by wolves.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2008, Anne Applebaum