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When Memoirs Are Fiction, Lawsuits Are a Fact

We've all heard the maxim that real life is stranger than fiction. But what happens when memoirs purportedly about someone's real life turn out to be fiction? Bring on the lawyers. 

That's what's happening in the latest chapter of the saga of Angel at the Fence, a Holocaust memoir recounting a survivor's concentration-camp romance with his wife that this past weekend was exposed as a fraud. The story has drawn extensive publicity because Oprah recently featured Angel author Henry Rosenblat on her popular television talk show. When news of the fraud came to light, Berkley Books announced that it would cancel the book's Feb. 3 release, a move which has sent those involved in the book deal as well as a subsequent sale of movie right scurrying to their lawyers to "protect their interests."

Berkley intends to seek repayment of the $50,000 advance that it paid for the book rights. That may be complicated, however. Fifteen percent of the advance went to Andrea Hurst, Rosenblatt's agent, who is currently seeking counsel on whether she's legally obligated to return that money (she emphasized, however, that she has no intention of fighting Berkley). Another chunk was paid to Susanna Margolis, who ghost-wrote the book and, presumably, intends to retain payment for work performed. Thus far, Rosenblat only received $4,000. 

And the plot thickens from there. Harrison Salomon, who purchased the film rights, believes that Berkley may have overreacted in pulling the memoir, and may have a claim for tortious interference. From the New Republic:

Sara Lynn Mandel [a partner with the Pasadena firm Mandel & Adriano] says Harris could argue that the negative reaction to Rosenblat's story following Berkley's announcement has damaged his ability to make his movie based on Rosenblat's life. "I believe there is the potential for some claims if they've damaged the ability for Harris to make the movie," she said, citing tortious interference as one possible case to pursue.

Of course, if this plot line sounds familiar, it should. Almost three years ago, James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces, named as an Oprah book club recommendation, spawned a million little lawsuits by readers claiming damages for having bought a book touted as true that turned out to be fabricated.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 30, 2008 at 02:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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