List of fake memoirs and journals

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This page provides a list of fake memoirs and journals. A fake memoir is a book that was published with the assertion that the events depicted are substantially true, but are later discovered or strongly asserted to be false. A book does not have to be entirely fictional to be considered a fake memoir. In contrast, a book which openly acknowledges that its author has fictionalized elements while still drawing on their own life may be more properly considered an autobiographical novel.

Entries are organized by the original publication date of the work in question.

19th century[edit]

  • Maria Monk, Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk: as Exhibited in a Narrative of Her Sufferings During a Residence of Five Years as a Novice, and Two Years as a Black Nun, in the Hôtel-Dieu Nunnery at Montreal, Howe & Bates, New York (1836), is a wildly sensationalistic story of life in a Montreal convent where nuns were forced to have sex with the priests in the seminary next door. Monk's descriptions of events have been found inconsistent with her physical surroundings, leading to assertions that it may have been a hoax perpetrated by her publisher or ghostwriters.[1][2]
  • Davy Crockett, Col. Crockett's exploits and adventures in Texas: wherein is contained a full account of his journey from Tennessee to the Red River and Natchitoches, and thence across Texas to San Antonio; including many hair-breadth escapes; together with a topographical, historical, and political view of Texas ... Written by Himself, T.K. and P.G. Collins, Philadelphia (1836), was supposedly Crockett’s journal taken at the Alamo by Mexican General Castrillón and then recovered at the Battle of San Jacinto, but was in fact written by Richard Penn Smith and Charles T. Beale.[3] The work has been called an "ingenious pseudo-autobiography."[4]


  • Philip Aegidius Walshe (actually Montgomery Carmichael), The Life of John William Walshe, F.S.A., London, Burns & Oates, (1901); New York, E. P. Dutton (1902), was presented as a son’s story of his father’s life in Italy as “a profound mystic and student of everything relating to St. Francis of Assisi.” In fact the son, the father, and the memoir were all invented by Montgomery Carmichael.[5]
  • Edmund Backhouse, China Under the Empress Dowager: being the History of the Life and Times of Tzu Hsi, Compiled from State Papers and the Private Diary of the Comptroller of her Household, London, Heinemann; Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. (1910). The diary on which the book was based was later shown to have been fabricated by Backhouse.[6][7]
  • Abel Fosdyk (likely A. Howard Linford), the Abel Fosdyk papers, published in The Strand Magazine, 1913, is a story, in diary form, of the mystery of the abandoned Mary Celeste, written by a supposed passenger. In 1924, J.G. Lockhart's Mysteries of the Sea highlighted a number of discrepancies in the papers, with Lockhart ultimately concluding they must have been falsified by Linford.[8]
  • Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance (actually Sylvester Clark Long) wrote an autobiography entitled Long Lance, Cosmopolitan Book Company (1928), in which he claimed to have been born the son of a Blackfoot chief in Montana's Sweetgrass Hills and later been wounded eight times in World War I and promoted to the rank of captain. In fact, the story was fabricated and Lance was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.[9]
  • Joan Lowell wrote Cradle of the Deep, Simon & Schuster (1929), in which she claimed that, before she was even a year old, her sea captain father took her away from her ailing mother to live on the Minnie A. Caine, a trading ship, and that she lived on the ship, with its all-male crew, until she was 17. The book ends with the ship burning and sinking off Australia as Lowell swims three miles to safety with a family of kittens clinging by their claws to her back. In fact, Lowell had been on the ship, which remained safe in California, for only 15 months. The book was a sensational best seller until it was exposed as a pure invention.[10]
  • John Knyveton (actually Ernest Gray) wrote three medical diaries: The Diary of a Surgeon in the Year 1751-1752, edited and transcribed by Ernest Gray, New York, D. Appleton-Century (1938); Surgeon's Mate: the diary of John Knyveton, surgeon in the British fleet during the Seven Years War 1756-1762, edited and transcribed by Ernest Gray, London, Robert Hale (1942); and Man midwife; the further experiences of John Knyveton, M.D., late surgeon in the British fleet, during the years 1763-1809, edited and narrated by Ernest Gray, London, Robert Hale (1946). These three diaries were well received when published, but doubts were later raised about their authenticity. They are now known to be fictitious, written by Ernest Gray and loosely based on a short biography of Dr Thomas Denman, 1733-1815.[11][12][13]


  • Friedrich Nietzsche, My Sister and I (1951) was supposedly written in 1889 or early 1890 during Nietzsche's stay in a mental asylum. It makes several bold and otherwise unreported claims, most notably of an incestuous relationship between Nietzsche and his sister.[14]
  • Slavomir Rawicz, The Long Walk (originally published 1955) is a ghostwritten book in which Rawicz, who was a Polish Army lieutenant imprisoned by the NKVD after the German-Soviet invasion of Poland, claimed to have escaped in 1941 from a Siberian Gulag camp and traveled approximately 6,500 km on foot through the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and the Himalayas to reach British India.[15] In 2006, the BBC released evidence showing that Rawicz had not escaped, but in fact had been released and transported to Iran.[16] Another Polish WWII veteran, Witold Gliński, has since claimed that he, not Rawicz, was the person who actually made "the long walk".[17][18]
  • Carlos Castaneda wrote a series of books that describe his training in traditional Mesoamerican shamanism, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan, University of California Press (1968). His 12 books have sold more than 8 million copies in 17 languages. Scholars of the Yaqui ethnic group have disputed the veracity of his publications.[19]
  • Anonymous (actually Beatrice Sparks), Go Ask Alice, Prentice-Hall (1971), was originally presented as being the real diary of an anonymous teenage girl who died of a drug overdose in the late 1960s. Sparks later became known for producing several additional books purporting to be the "real diaries" of troubled teenagers.[20] Before the book's authenticity was challenged, The New York Times praised it as an "extraordinary work for teenagers" and "a document of horrifying reality and literary quality".[21] It was later reclassified by its publishers as fiction.
  • Clifford Irving, The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, McGraw-Hill (1972) is a fabricated autobiography of the reclusive billionaire. Irving served 17 months in prison after confessing to the hoax.[22]
  • Forrest Carter (pseud. Asa Earl Carter), The Education of Little Tree, Delacorte Press (1976), was presented as the author's memoir about growing up among the Cherokee, but is in fact fiction written by a former white supremacist.[23]
  • David Rorvik wrote In his Image: the Cloning of a Man, J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York (1978),[24] in which he claimed to have been part of a successful endeavor to create a clone of a human being. In a subsequent defamation suit, a court found the book was a hoax; the publisher subsequently acknowledged this, but Rorvik continues to maintain it is truthful.[25]
  • Konrad Kujau forged The Hitler Diaries in 1983. When first published in the Sunday Times, the diaries were authenticated by the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, but they were demonstrated to be crude fakes, written on modern paper, within a few weeks.
  • Lauren Stratford (actually Laurel Rose Willson) wrote Satan's Underground, Harvest House, Oregon (1988), purporting to tell a true story of her upbringing in a Satanic cult, but later branded as fabricated. She later assumed the guise of a Holocaust survivor and adopted the alias of Laura Grabowski, also later revealed to be a falsehood.[26]
  • Marlo Morgan wrote Mutant Message Down Under, MM Co. (self-published), Lees Summit, Missouri (1991); Harper Collins, New York (1994). The book claimed to be a memoir of her time spent with Aboriginals. The book has caused protests by Aboriginal groups. Parts of it have been asserted to be invented, and the publisher has reissued it labeled as fiction.[27][28]
  • Anthony Godby Johnson, A Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy's Triumphant Story, Crown Books, New York; Little Brown, London (1993), is the story of a young boy, sexually abused by his parents and later adopted, who discovers he is HIV-positive and who develops AIDS. This book has been challenged on a number of accounts and is alleged to be the fictional product of Vicki Johnson, also known as Vicki Fraginals Zackheim. "Tony," the subject of the book, made an "appearance" on the Oprah Winfrey Show, but was interviewed with his face obscured.[29]
  • Wanda Koolmatrie (actually Leon Carmen), My Own Sweet Time, Magabala Books, Australia (1994), was presented as an autobiographical account by an Aboriginal woman born in 1949, who was taken from her mother and raised by white foster parents. Its true author was Leon Carmen, a white Australian male taxi driver with literary aspirations who believed that he could not have been published under his own identity. The publisher discovered the hoax when Carmen attempted to publish a sequel.[30]
  • Helen Demidenko (real name Helen Darville, also known as Helen Dale), The Hand That Signed the Paper, Allen & Unwin, Australia (1994) was presented as a supposedly autobiographical story of a student’s discovery of her family's bleak wartime history as peasants in Ukraine under Stalinism and their “liberation” by the Nazi invasion. In reality, the author had no Ukrainian family and was the daughter of British immigrants to Australia. The deception was revealed by the Australian media when the novel won the Miles Franklin Award: despite the controversy, it later won the 1995 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal.
  • Binjamin Wilkomirski (real name: Bruno Dössekker), Fragments, Schocken Books (US edition, 1996), is an acclaimed but fabricated Holocaust memoir.[31] Before it was exposed as fabricated, The New York Times called the book "stunning", the Los Angeles Times described it as a "classic first-hand account of the Holocaust", it received the 1996 National Jewish Book Award for Autobiography and Memoir, in Britain it received the Jewish Quarterly Literary Prize, and in France it was awarded the Prix Memoire de la Shoah.[32][33]
  • Misha Defonseca (real name: Monique de Wael), Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, Mt. Ivy Press (1997) is a fabricated memoir of a supposed Holocaust survivor who walked 1,900 miles across Europe searching for her parents, killed a German officer in self-defense, and lived with a pack of wolves. The work was a best seller, was translated into 18 languages and was made into a movie.[34]


  • Nasdijj (pseud. Timothy Patrick "Tim" Barrus), The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams, Houghton Mifflin (2000), The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping (2003), and Geronimo's Bones: A Memoir of My Brother and Me (2004). These works recounted various aspects of the author's supposed life, including his Navajo heritage, his self-destructive and abusive parents, his unhappy childhood as a migrant worker, his dysfunctional relationships with other family members, and, eventually, his growing up to become the nurturing father of first an adopted child with fetal alcohol syndrome and then one who is HIV-positive. Before it was exposed as fabricated, The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and winner of the Salon Book Award. It was described by Esquire in a cover blurb as an "authentic, important book...Unfailingly honest and very nearly perfect."[35]
  • Michael Gambino (pseud. Michael Pelligrino), The Honored Society, Simon & Schuster (2001). The book, supposedly by the grandson of Mafioso Carlo Gambino, described his life as a gangster, including spending 12 years in prison for bribery, gambling, extortion, kidnapping, money laundering, murder and pimping. After Carlo Gambino’s real son, Thomas Gambino, exposed the fraud, the publisher withdrew the book.
  • Tom Abraham, The Cage, Corgi (2002) was about his time in the Vietnam War. In the book, he claimed to have been a prisoner of, and subsequently escaped from, the Viet Cong. This was disputed by veteran's groups, who noted that Abraham does not appear on The Pentagon's definitive list of Vietnam War soldiers known to have been missing in action or prisoners of war.[36]
  • James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, Doubleday Books (a division of Random House) (2003) is a bestselling memoir in which the author created and exaggerated significant details of his drug addiction and recovery. The author appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and in September 2005, the book became an Oprah's Book Club selection. However, when the book's authenticity was called into question, the author and publisher Nan Talese were invited back and publicly scolded by Winfrey in a live face-to-face confrontation. The media feasted over the televised showdown. David Carr of the New York Times wrote, "Both Mr. Frey and Ms. Talese were snapped in two like dry winter twigs."[37] "Oprah annihilates Frey," proclaimed Larry King.[38] New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, "It was a huge relief, after our long national slide into untruth and no consequences, into Swift boating and swift bucks, into W.'s delusion and denial, to see the Empress of Empathy icily hold someone accountable for lying,"[39] and the Washington Post's Richard Cohen was so impressed by the confrontation that he crowned Winfrey "Mensch of the Year."[40]
  • Norma Khouri, Forbidden Love (published as Honor Lost in the United States), Bantam Books, Australia (2003); Doubleday, New York (2003) was purported to be the story of the author's best friend in Jordan, Dalia, who fell in love with a Christian soldier. Dalia's Muslim father was not told of the relationship, and when he eventually discovered it, he stabbed Dalia to death in a so-called honor killing. The book was exposed as a hoax after the literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that Khouri had not lived in Jordan during the book's timeframe, and apart from a three-week stay to research her book, had not lived there since her early childhood.[41]
  • JT LeRoy (pseud. Laura Victoria Albert) published a number of fabricated writings (c. 2005) in which LeRoy was presented as a transgender, sexually questioning, abused, former homeless teenage drug addict and male prostitute.[42]
  • A. L. Finch's Child P.O.W. ― A Memoir of Survival (three self-published US editions, 2007, 2008 and 2011), were about a mother and child’s experience as internees in Japanese captivity in the Philippines during the Second World War, but has been exposed as a fabricated account.[43][44] Finch is the pen name of A. L. Peeples of Lakewood, Washington. The University of Puget Sound published a cover profile of Finch / Peeples in the Autumn 2009 edition of its alumni magazine Arches, but later removed that edition from its website.
  • Margaret Seltzer (pseud. Margaret B. Jones), Love and Consequences, Riverhead Books (a division of Penguin Group USA) (2008) was a critically received memoir of a girl, part white and part native American, growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child in a world of drug dealers and gang members. In fact, the work was exposed as completely fabricated by Seltzer's sister.[45] Before it was exposed, the book was praised as "humane and deeply affecting" by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times.[46]
  • Matt McCarthy, Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit, Viking (a division of Penguin Group USA) (February 2009) is a memoir describing McCarthy's summer as a minor league pitcher. He writes about playing with racist teammates who take steroids, however, statistics from that season, combined with transaction listings and interviews with former teammates suggest that much of the book is false. Before its authenticity was challenged, the book was promoted by Sports Illustrated. Carolyn Coleburn, the publisher's vice president and director of publicity said, “We rely on our authors to tell the truth and fact-check.”[47]
  • Herman Rosenblat, Angel at the Fence: The True Story of a Love That Survived (February 2009, cancelled) is a Holocaust memoir in which the author invented the story that, while he was imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp, a young girl from the outside would pass him food through the fence daily and years later they accidentally met and married. Rosenblat appeared twice on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Before the book's announced publication, Winfrey called the story "the single greatest love story, in 22 years of doing this show, we've ever told on the air." The book was scheduled for publication in February 2009 by Berkley Books, a division of Penguin Group USA, but has been cancelled. Although the author fabricated details about how he met his wife, he is an authentic Holocaust survivor.[48]
  • Niromi de Soyza (nom de plume), Tamil Tigress: My Story as a Child Soldier in Sri Lanka's Bloody Civil War (Allen & Unwin, 2011), an autobiography of the author, has raised substantial questions about its authenticity. It is considered a counterfeit.[49][50]
  • Theresa Christodoulopoulos (pseud. Rose Christo), Under the Same Stars: The Search for My Brother and the True Story of My Immortal (May 2018, cancelled) is the story of a woman claiming to be the author of the infamous Harry Potter fan fiction, My Immortal, that describes her troubled childhood and trying to find her brother who she claimed was lost in the foster care system.[51] However, her brother came forward on a Kiwi Farms forum thread and claimed Christo had falsified major parts of their childhood, including her Native American ancestry and quest to find him (the crux of her book). The book has since been cancelled.[52]


  1. ^ Stein, Gordon. (1993). Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Gale Group. pp. 224-226. ISBN 0-8103-8414-0
  2. ^ New York Herald, 1836-08-12, p.2, col. 1 ; The Colophon, pt. 17, 1934.
  3. ^ Howes, US-IANA, S654
  4. ^ Richard R. Flores, Remembering the Alamo : Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol, Univ. of Texas (2002), p. 139.
  5. ^ (1 September 1906). Saturday Review of Books, p. BR537.
  6. ^ Trevor-Roper, Hugh The Hermit of Peking, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1976 pages 348-352.
  7. ^ Duyvendak, The Diary of His Excellency Ching-Shan: Being a Chinese Account of the Boxer Troubles (Leiden: Brill, 1924; rpr. Arlington, Va.: University Publications of America, 1976; ISBN 978-0-89093-074-8); Hui-min Lo, "The Ching-shan Diary: A Clue to its Forgery," East Asian History, 1 (1991), 98–124
  8. ^ Mason, Stan (2013-12-12). The Mary Celeste - Legend, Evidence and Truth. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 9781783334476.
  9. ^ Donald B. Smith, Chief Buffalo Child Long Lance: The Glorious Impersonator, Red Deer Press, 1999, pp.243-244
  10. ^ Colby, Anne (2008-03-14). "Meet the grandmother of memoir fabricators". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  11. ^ Evans, Martin H. & Hooper, Geoffrey: "Three misleading diaries: John Knyveton MD - from naval surgeon's mate to man-midwife." International Journal of Maritime History (2014) 26: 762-788.
  12. ^ Hooper, Geoffrey: BMJ, 344:e3019 (2012) Archived 2013-10-20 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Eugene L. Rasor, English/British Naval History to 1815: A Guide to the Literature (2004) p. 226.
  14. ^ "Denis Dutton on the fake Nietzsche autobiography, My Sister and I". Philosophy and Literature. 1992. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  15. ^ "The Greatest Escape - war hero who walked 4,000 miles from Siberian death camp".
  16. ^ Levinson, Hugh (30 October 2006). "Walking the talk?". BBC News, International version. BBC News. Retrieved 18 January 2009.
  17. ^ Dennis Ellam and Adam Lee Potter (16 May 2009). "The Greatest Escape – war hero who walked 4,000 miles from Siberian death camp".
  18. ^ Скрадзенае жыццё Вітальда Глінскага (in Belarusian)
  19. ^ Thomas, Stephen. "Shamans and Charlatans: Assessing Castaneda's Legacy". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  20. ^ ""Curiouser and Curiouser": Fact, Fiction, and the Anonymous Author of Go Ask Alice". Archived from the original on 2010-03-26. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  21. ^ Schott, Webster (1972-05-07). "Childrens Books". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  22. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (February 15, 1974). "Irving Is Freed on Parole Here; Says He Owes 'About a Million'". The New York Times.
  23. ^ The Education of Little Tree and Forrest Carter Archived 2008-01-21 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ Rorvik, David Michael (1978). In his Image: The Cloning of a Man. Philadelphia and New York City: J. B. Lippincott. ISBN 978-0-397-01255-8. The author (Rorvik) intentionally left the word "his" uncapitalized in the title of this book. See Talk:David Rorvik
  25. ^ "The Cloning of a Man".
  26. ^ Lauren Stratford: From Satanic Ritual Abuse to Jewish Holocaust SurvivorCornerstone magazine's exposé of Stratford's claim to be Laura Grabowski
  27. ^ "Mutant Message Down Under".
  28. ^ "BOOK NEWS Other literary hoaxes", Los Angeles Times, 2008-03-09
  29. ^ "Excerpt Four: Revealing a Literary Hoax: The Strange Case of Anthony Godby Johnson". Archived from the original on 27 April 2009.
  30. ^ Carmen, Leon (15 March 1997). "Leon and a ruse called Wanda". The Daily Telegraph. News Corporation. pp. 30–31.
  31. ^ "Other Voices 2.1 (February 2000), Renata Salecl "Why One Would Pretend to be a Victim of the Holocaust"".
  32. ^ Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Harcourt Inc., 2008, p. 82
  33. ^ Peskin, Harvey (19 April 1999). "Holocaust Denial: A Sequel", The Nation
  34. ^ Holocaust Book Hoax See also [1]
  35. ^ Blackstone, Charles; Talbot, Jill (2009-06-03). The Art of Friction: Where (Non)Fictions Come Together. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292783089.
  36. ^ Cobain, by Adrian Weale, Guy Walters and Ian. "Englishman's Vietnam war story 'is just fiction'". Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  37. ^ Carr, David (2006-01-30). "How Oprahness Trumped Truthiness". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  38. ^ "". CNN. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  39. ^ Dowd, Maureen (8 January 2006). "Oprah's Bunk Club". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 12 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  40. ^ Poniewozik, James (26 January 2006). "Oprah Clarifies Her Position: Truth, Good. Embarrassing Oprah, Very Bad". Time. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  41. ^ Knox, Malcolm (24 July 2004). "Bestseller's Lies Exposed". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 18 June 2011.
  42. ^ Warren St. John (2006-02-07). "Figure in JT Leroy Case Says Partner Is Culprit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
  43. ^ J. Michael Houlahan, “Fiction as Fact: False Memories of WWII in the Philippines”, Asia-Pacific Social Science Review (De La Salle University, Manila) 10:2 (2010), pp. 83–86.
  44. ^ Sascha Weinzheimer Jansen, Philippine Scouts Heritage Website,
  45. ^ "Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction". The New York Times. 4 March 2008.
  46. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (2008-02-26). "Margaret B. Jones - Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival - Books - Review". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  47. ^ Hill, Benjamin; Schwarz, Alan (3 March 2009). "Errors Cast Doubt on a Baseball Memoir". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  48. ^ "Publication of disputed Holocaust memoir canceled". Associated Press. 27 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
  49. ^ "Outing a Counterfeit Guerrilla: A tale of lies by Tamil Tigress Niromi de Soyza". Groundviews. 19 November 2011.
  50. ^ "Forbidden Fruits: Niromi de Soyza's "Tamil Tigress", Noumi Kouri and Helen Demidenko?". Groundviews. 31 August 2011.
  51. ^ "Alleged Author of Legendarily Bad Fanfic 'My Immortal' Steps Forward". 7 September 2017.
  52. ^ "The My Immortal memoir has been canceled, and the mystery of the notorious fanfic deepens". 9 October 2017.