Idol Chatter

Ever since James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” debacle, with Oprah tearing up the author for fabricating large swaths of his “memoir” (not long after praising him in a show devoted to his book), the whole genre has been under fire. When exactly does a memoir cross the line into fiction? Is all memoir fiction, to a degree, or is there really “truth” on every page of these remembered moments?

These questions are on the table yet again–though not so pressingly as with Frey. This time the recently acclaimed “Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil” by Deborah Rodriguez is under the gun.

Just weeks ago, New York Times book critic William Grimes praised the memoir as “the rollicking story of one of the strangest foreign-aid projects ever conceived, the creation of an academy to train Afghan beauticians. A surprisingly successful venture, it gives Afghan women practical training convertible into cold cash and personal power, a radical idea in a country where women have the approximate status of dirt.” Rodriguez–otherwise known as “Crazy Deb”–is described as having “superior storytelling gifts and [a] wicked sense of humor,” and is even credited with saving the school from being closed down by the government by opening it independently with her own cash.

Well, now Crazy Deb is being credited with fabricating much of her story. Fellow American beauticians dispute Rodriguez as the beauty school’s founder and believe most of the stories Rodriguez tells about Afghan women (including one where Rodriguez helps a woman fake her virginity on her wedding night) are simply made up for dramatic effect.

In “Shades of Truth: An Account Of a Kabul School Is Challenged” Abby Ellin reports that Rodriguez has “has raised the ire of six women who were involved at the founding of the Kabul Beauty School. The women say the book is filled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies. They argue that events did not unfold the way Ms. Rodriguez depicts them, and that she exaggerated her role in the formation of the school.” These women are not accusing Rodriguez of Frey-level fraud. But still, the accusations are strong enough.

But Rodriguez is apparently sticking to her account.

And “Kabul Beauty School” is sticking on the New York Times Bestseller list, too. Due to the controversy, Rodriguez’s memoir is enjoying its second week on the list. Perhaps every memoir editor’s new dream will be that, upon publication, someone will come around to decry it all, declaring it false, so author and publisher can then laugh all the way to the bank.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus