Last year, my sister-in-law, who knows that I am interested in international development, suggested that I borrow a book she had recently enjoyed – Three Cups of Tea, a memoir by Greg Mortenson. Before I had a chance to read this book (my catch-up list is long), articles in the last month have come out claiming that Mortenson fabricated large pieces of his memoir and his rebuttal was to blame editors and co-writers as well as to claim that “the tale outlined in the book was actually “a compressed version of events” unfolding over a longer period of time.”
Well, call me a judgmental person, but now I don’t want to bother wasting my time reading the book!
In the realm of “creative non-fiction” what is embellishment, fabrication or outright lies? and are readers willing to accept a little embellishment? What is the limit of this gray area in non-fiction?
I always believed that you either wrote facts or stories. Not both. I believe that it’s fair to take a piece of someone’s life story and build it into something bigger – if you state clearly that it is only “based on a true story” (and there are some who may not even agree with that!). But I DO NOT believe one can call something a memoir, if it is not a true account of your life. Compressing events to make up a new story that you didn’t actually live is not a memoir or non-fiction – it is fiction.
There have been individuals who have suggested in conversation that the book was meant to highlight Mortenson’s charity work and that all the good he has done outweighs any embellishments made in his book. This may be true in the minds of some, but for others, this does nothing to calm suspicions regarding what goes on behind closed doors at charities – the 60 Minutes exposé claimed that the Central Asia Institute – the charity Mortenson established to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan does not use its funds appropriately – spending more on “domestic book tours” than in the actual areas of need.
What do you think of this case? Will you still read the book? Or have you already?
What are your opinions of “creative-non-fiction” in general?
Is there more outrage among Mortenson’s fellow writers or other citizens as well?