Surviving with Wolves author comes clean

Variety reported that the Belgian author of the bestselling 1997 children’s book Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, recently made into the film Surviving with Wolves, has revealed that the "autobiographical" story of her being raised by wolves during the Holocaust is made up — oh, and that she’s not Jewish, either… but "she’s always felt Jewish."

Director Vera Belmont told the Israeli newpaper Ha’aretz in January,

Misha Defonseca burst into tears when she first saw the movie. 

"She said it was the most beautiful homage to her parents, who died anonymously. The actor who plays the father and Yael Abecassis truly resemble Defonseca’s parents, and seeing them on screen was a spine-chilling experience for her." 

Are you aware that historians doubt the truth of Defonseca’s story? 

"That is exactly like the people who deny the existence of concentration camps. This is a true story. Everything that happened during the Holocaust is unbelievable and impossible to grasp, and people therefore also find it difficult to believe this story."

According to the Telegraph, Belmont’s spokesman said, "The movie is a fiction from the book. No matter if it’s true or not  — she believes it is, anyway — she just thinks it’s a beautiful story."

Defonseca told the Belgian newspaper, Le Soir, which broke the news, "It’s not actual reality, but it was my reality. It was my way of surviving… I seek forgiveness from those who feel betrayed, but I implore them to put themselves in the position of a little four-year-old girl who has lost everything, who has to survive."

The Telegraph notes that Defonseca’s book "became a runaway bestseller after its publication in Italy and France and has made her a millionaire," and it goes on to report that, unlike Belmont,

Jane Daniel, the publisher Mrs. Defonseca claims persuaded her to write the book, is less forgiving after being sued by the author in a breach of contract case for £11 million ($21 million).

She now intends to challenge the judgment on the grounds that Mrs. Defonseca’s original contract had warranted the truth of the story.

For their part, internet activists have begun to strike back at the book’s Amazon page, assaulting it with one-star reviews since the fraud hit the mainstream media. That’ll show her.

Posted on March 1, 2008 at 22:06 by Gordon@MovieMakeout · Permalink
In: News · Tagged with: 

10 Responses

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  1. Written by Caolan
    on 2008-03-01 at 23:26
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    This feels like a repeat of what happened to “A Million Little Pieces”. Do you think most of the people who read it will really change their minds about it? When it comes down to it, it’ll still be a good story. I’m not condoning what she did, I’m just making a point.

  2. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on 2008-03-01 at 23:34
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    Absolutely, it’s A Million Little Pieces all over again. And, like then, I’m inclined to disagree: even good fiction needs a kernel of truth in it to be of any value; a “memoir” built upon lies is inherently not a good story and therefore of no value whatsoever.

  3. Written by Caolan
    on 2008-03-02 at 00:46
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    For the record, A Million Little Pieces was only partially fabricated, which goes to explain why many public libraries have it still shelved under non-fiction. But you are right, as a memoir, fiction or not, it should be based on truth.
    And yet, if people were entertained by the story, does that not mean that it achieved it’s purpose?
    When it comes down to it, this woman exploited an awful event for millions, and clearly she deserves whatever she gets.

  4. Written by Instigator
    on 2008-03-02 at 13:09
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    “a ‘memoir’ built upon lies is inherently not a good story and therefore of no value whatsoever.”

    That has got to be the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever read. You say it as if you believe that there are no lies in memoirs, as if autobiographies are all pinnacles of truth. Please, do you think there are no fish stories in autobiographies?

    Any story that generates an emotional response in the reader or viewer has value. Sure, you may feel betrayed by the premise going in, but that’s baggage you’ve brought with you.

    You’re getting pissed an an author for doing to her own life story what Hollywood has been doing to “True Stories” for years.

  5. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on 2008-03-02 at 13:45
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    Right. That is the most ridiculous statement — “ever.” Anyway, I stand by it.

    When Hollywood adapts a story, they at least admit it when they change shit — not always on screen, but off. The key is where the point of a story lies: if the substance of her story is to say (essentially) “truth is stranger than fiction,” as it is in Misha, but the story is a lie, then it serves no function and is useless.

    In fiction, the point is “to admire it intensely,” as Oscar Wilde said of all art: for its storytelling, its artifice… characters, plot, any number of things. In memoirs — in all non-fiction — it is to convey literal, factual truth. Nobody says, “You know, those articles by Jayson Blair were plagiarized and partly made up, but gosh, they were well-written.” Why should you make apologies for this woman? THAT’S riduculous. Non-fiction is badly written if it is full of lies, by its very definition.

    Okay, here’s an example:

    The Diving Bell and the Butterfly — the film — was fictionalized from the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby. The point of the memoir was, “I had a stroke, got completely paralyzed except for one eye, and I wrote a book about it by blinking his left eye — seriously!” In the movie, the man’s wife stands by him after the stroke, and his mistress never visits him. In the book (and in life), his mistress stayed by his side, not his wife. The book even adds an extra child, for some reason I can’t fully comprehend.

    While they bothered me, these changes — these lies, if you get down to it — were tolerable because they were not the substance of the film. The substance is — “a guy has a stroke, is completely paralyzed except for one eye, and he writes a book by blinking his left eye — holy shit!” — is true and therefore valuable.

    The substance of Misha was a complete lie, and therefore it is worthless.

  6. Written by Caolan
    on 2008-03-02 at 14:47
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    It seems to me that by that same logic, fantasy and science fiction stories have absolutely no merit whatsoever.
    Of course, I just may be misinterpreting what you’re saying.

  7. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on 2008-03-02 at 14:57
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    As I said in my response to Instigator, the point of fiction is to admire it for the beauty of its storytelling, the general psychological truths contained in its characters, a clever plot, vividly detailed setting, or any number of other things.

    Fiction is NOT the same thing as a lie.

  8. Written by Caolan
    on 2008-03-02 at 19:02
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    So you’re saying that “Wolves” has no merit because it was initially presented as a true memoir, and was meant to be appreciated for it’s existence as a true story, and the fact that it isn’t true means that there isn’t anything to be appreciated? I think I get you. I apologize if I’m not grasping this fully.

    How would you feel about the story, though, if it were originally presented as being complete fiction? Would it have value then?

  9. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on 2008-03-02 at 19:19
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    Right: my point is that there is nothing to be “appreciated,” no truths can be proven, by lies.

    If this exact same story were presented as fiction, it could potentially have value, of course — if it were well-written — which, not having read it, I can’t comment upon.

    There are worthwhile, fictional tales of survival (J. P. Stassen’s Deogratias, from First Second, for instance), and the truths you can find in it are of a general nature: about Rwanda itself, its culture, its depiction of how things happened in the genocide and its aftermath…

  10. Written by Alex Karelis
    on 2008-03-06 at 07:55
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    I don’t know that the story is valueless, but my enjoyment of (and in fact, whether I care at all about )a story about a true event depends heavily on whether it is presented as fiction or non-fiction. There are a lot of great fictional Holocaust stories out there, but now that Captain America is dead, I imagine the quality is starting to go down.

    True stories of atrocity draw their impact from the fact that they actually happened. We empathize with the characters because they are or were real. If I want to read about misery that didn’t happen, I’ll swing by Fan-Fiction.net and check out some Harry Potter slash, (or if I want to be a little more literate, read some Joyce Carol Oates). That’s not going to happen, though, because catharsis that isn’t grounded in reality is a huge waste of my time.

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