Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surviving With Wolves

Almost a year ago--on March 1, 2008--I wrote about yet another writer's hoax. You may remember it. I'm going to cheat here and steal from some of my earlier posts.

Last February, Misha Defonseca, a seventy-one-year-old Belgian woman, admitted that her 1997 book, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, was a fabrication.

In her "memoir," Defonseca claimed she'd escaped into a forest at age six to avoid the Nazis who'd seized her Jewish parents. She described living with wolves as she crossed Europe over the next four years.

The book became a best-seller in Europe and was turned into a French film, Survivre avec les loups (Surviving With Wolves), which was released in November of 2007.

In my post I explained that the book came about after Defonseca and her husband moved to Massachusetts and Jane Daniel, a publisher who operated out of her house, heard the improbable tale and decided it would make a great book. Daniel roped in her own next-door neighbor, a retired French professor named Vera Lee, to work with Defonseca who preferred to dictate the story in French.

According to the Boston Globe:
The book was published - with a glowing blurb from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, author of the Holocaust memoir "Night" - with Lee's name on the copyright page, not on the cover. Lee sued Daniel in 1998, claiming her rights as coauthor had been violated. Defonseca also sued, alleging that Daniel had broken her promise to publicize the book and had hidden profits in offshore corporate accounts.
As I explained in my first post, that 2001 jury found for the plaintiffs, giving Defonseca $7.5 million in damages and giving Lee another $3.3 million. The judge trebled those damages to $9.9 million for Lee and $22.4 million for Defonseca. The rights to the book went to Defonseca.
Since the judgment, Daniel [told The Boston Globe] she has lost most of her assets, spent a night in jail on a judge's order, and is about to lose her house, a bed-and-breakfast inn overlooking Gloucester Harbor.
Although admitting that she neglected to adequately fact-check the book she'd published, following the court judgment, Daniel embarked on a one-woman crusade to prove Defonseca was a fraud. In August of 2007, she established a blog here dedicated to tracking down information about her former author client.

Sharon Sergeant, a genealogist, saw the blog and began researching the meager facts Daniel had on Defonseca's past. With the help of Belgian journalist Marc Metdapenningen of Le Soir newspaper, Sergeant turned up the information that proved Defonseca was lying. Defonseca was not Jewish. Her real name was Monique De Wael and she'd been baptized Catholic. Her parents were resistance fighters executed by the Nazis. She was raised by her grandfather and uncle.

When confronted with the facts, Defonseca admitted the truth last February leading to my first blog post on the subject here.

In April, 2008, Publishers Weekly reported that Jane Daniel was seeking to overturn the court's judgment on the basis that the book was a fraud.

Today's Publishers Lunch had the following tidbit:
Jane Daniel, who both published Misha Defonseca's fake Holocaust survival story of living with wolves and then lost a huge court verdict for allegedly hiding royalties and failing to promote the book properly (called "reprehensible by the judge) seeks exoneration in the final court--her own small press book, Bestseller! The $33 Million Verdict. The 20-year Hoax. The Truth Behind the Headlines.
I immediately started by checking Jane Daniel's blog, which led me here to this copy of a court complaint. Jane claims this complaint was filed with the Massachusetts Superior Court, but I have not been able to confirm that, and the copy shown does not bear the stamp of the court or a filing date.

For a link to Jane's book on Amazon released four months ago, go here.

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