Between the Lines Book Club: Controversial Memoirs

between the lines book club logoThis month our book club pick is Bend Not Break, by Ping Fu. When it was first released, Bend Not Break received considerable critical acclaim and was popular with the public as well. However, Chinese readers noted several inconsistencies in the author’s timeline, and questioned a particular scene in which Fu claims to have witnessed an execution of a teacher. In response, Fu explained many discrepancies but admitted that the execution probably never happened. We will be discussing this book at Arden Dimick Library  on Sept 28, 2019 at 10:30AM.

Bend Not Break joins a long list of memoirs that are either completely or partially fictionalized. One of the most famous is A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. Like Bend Not Break, this was marketed as a memoir and heavily publicized by Oprah Winfrey. Unlike Bend Not Break, which mostly alters logistical details,  A Million Little Pieces turned out to be almost completely fictionalized. Less famously, people who knew Madeline L’Engle, including her children and other family members, claim that her memoirs are almost complete fiction, especially her portrait of a happy marriage that never existed in Two Part Invention.

Some books market themselves as “fictionalized memoir.” While marketed as fiction, the Little House books fit into this category. Although the events come from author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, she picked and choose events and altered some events and characters so as to create a compelling story that wouldn’t be too dark. In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, author David Egger includes fantasy sequences and points out sections to the reader that are fictionalized or otherwise different from reality.

Ping Fu claimed to write “the emotional truth.” Madeline L’Engle claimed that “there is no such thing as nonfiction.” Is it possible to write a truly truthful memoir? And at what point do deviations from fact make the entire piece untrustworthy? We will explore these questions on Sept 28 and below in the comments!




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