No, Here’s What Happened is not the name of a new book. I posted a review last night of Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox and within minutes received an email from a The Whole Megillah reader informing me of the “flack this book is getting for the lies created throughout. There are plenty of online sites that are also reporting the far too many numerous mistruths in this book to call it a memoir. It might make a five star read, but let’s call it what it is: fiction.”
When I review a book, I intentionally do not look at other reviews. I was unaware of the controversy.
I then received comments from women, who are not among the followers of The Whole Megillah, who know Deborah’s family. I would term these comments hate mail. The comments called me names I don’t want to repeat. Frankly, these comments left me stunned.
I’m not a big fan of hate mail, especially when it’s directed at me personally. I don’t believe there was cause to lash out at me, resorting to name-calling and accusations. I chose not to publish the comments, which is my right as moderator, and I took down the post.
This review had been the blog’s first foray into adult literary. Is this what I should expect going forward? And, what trust should be placed in memoir as written?
The last ten years or so have seen many book reveiwers jousting with the truth of a memoir, the credibility of the author, and/or the lax scrutiny of the publisher. So, questioning the veracity of a memoir is nothing new. But the vicious and narrow-minded attacks on you as a reviewer, let alone personal attacks is shameful. I urge you to ignore them. Fear and ignorance should be reversed instead to the age-old Jewish principles of fairness and intellect. Let me remind those “book burners” that after reviews are read and authors are heard the bottom line is that I am the master of my bookshelf (in any format.) And I will obtain a book if I choose to no matter what they say!
I’m sorry you’ve been the victim of hate mail. No matter how much someone disagrees with you (or what you’ve written), attacking you personally is unnecessary and mean.
Good luck weathering the storm!
I am surprised that you hadn’t heard of all the controversy! Readers are demanding credibility in memoirs after so many of them being called into question and exposed for false representation. But in this case, some people are enraged over what they see is an extreme and untruthful portrayal of Chassidim. This is especially true for those who are close to this lifestyle. Certainly readers who have little contact with ultra-orthodox would come away from this book with a terribly negative feeling. So it will be interesting to see how this all plays out: will some of the author’s anecdotes be proven false,like James Frey?
Ditto to Pnina. And kudos to you for posting the scenario. The vitriol is instructive. I’m sorry the barrage caused you to remove your review.
I haven’t read this book (yet) and I’m not close with anyone who could be remotely considered ultraorthodox. I’m aware of the negative reviews this book has received from some close to the community Ms Feldman left. I understand they may feel attacked. However, the thing about memoir is it’s based on the author’s memories. From my own experiences with family and friends I know that not everyone places the same importance on events and our versions of things can be radically different. This really hit home for when I was talking with an exboyfriend and when I brought up a moment we had shared a few years earlier he had no idea what I was talking about– and it was something that I had obsessed over for those few years. I hope Ms Feldman did not deliberately lie in her book, but even if she did the best defense by her detractors is not visciously attacking book reviewers. Maybe some good old fashioned positive PR would be better. Surely there are members of the community who have had positive experiences? Maybe they should be encouraged to share their stories in book form.
Amber, some of the accusations Feldman makes are very serious, as in a murder that was covered up. So, it isn’t just about negative PR. Unlike James Frey, who basically embellished his story to make it more exciting, Feldman’s account really does attack a group of people and their religious customs and practices. So, if it has untruths, these are more serious than Frey’s.
There are certainly issues this particular book raises and then there those that arise with memoir in general about reliable narration. My personal rule about memoir, especially in the pieces I’m personally writing: there’s no need to bash anyone.
Here’s one article about the reaction to the book…http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/short_takes/unorthodox_facts
Just wanted to express my sadness at the hate mail you received. Memoirs are a slippery slope and I can understand that a family would be upset to have one side of their family story told in a way that they considered untrue. But to respond in such a way? I sincerely hope this is not a sign of what’s to come with your new expansion into memoir and poetry.
What a shocking post! I wanted to reach out and express my support of you and the important work you do for everyone involved with Jewish books for children! Your blog is superb and I always look forward to reading your reviews. Even though we might not always agree, I have a tremendous amount of respect for you because of your incredible knowlege and keen understanding of childrens books. Let’s hope this is a one time occurrence! Keep the terrific reviews coming. I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Aimee – this particular review was my first on the blog for an adult book. Thanks for your support!
Hi Barbara, I think Amber P hit the nail on the head. Memories for one person are often different from others’ even when all attended the same event. What you did was review the book you read. No one should criticize you for doing that. I like that you don’t let other reviews color yours. I appreciate reading your reviews and have found wonderful books I never would have found otherwise. (I’m reading The Berlin Boxing Club right now, thanks to your review.) Ignore the haters. What they write tells much more about them than it does about you!
I just want to join in with others who support you in the excellent and meaningful work you do. It would be one thing if your intention was to slander a group, but it’s obvious that you were, at the very worst, innocently misled. Shame on the people who pile vitriol on you and call themselves religious; I believe “shanda” is the correct word.
I have not read the book yet, but I’m sure a lot of the haters have not read it, either. I’m glad you reviewed the book. You are always fair and insightful. If it’s any consolation, it looks like there was a campaign to post “one-star” reviews on Amazon to bring down the rating, and there was definitely misplaced emotion there, too. Keep up the good work!
Thanks, Kathe, and everyone for your thoughts and support!
Ugh, I’m so sorry you were attacked. It’s very sad when people feel the need to lash out online, but haters gonna hate, as the kids say.
So sorry you had to deal with any negative feedback when you do such a wonderful service for the Jewish literary world. Stick to children’s books from now on…..it’s a kinder gentler subject matter….usually!
Well, look at that! Nothing like a good controvery to get people commenting on your blog. I think I’m the 18th comment, hmmm? At least there is an up side of putting yourself out there–blog traffic!
I’m so sorry that you’ve also had to encounter the down-side. It is amazing how folks who have an ax to grind latch on to innocent and unfair targets.
I hope you don’t give up on adult books! Don’t let the crazy and insane people out there dictate what your blog, and what you are interested in should be. If you cater to them, then all of us sane people will be deprived of your insights, and that would not be fair to us, your loyal readers!
As G-d said to Joshua (both of whom also had to deal with many crazies): Chazak V’amatz!!
Thanks for your support, Ann!
I’m sorry that people attacked you. We need more civility in all discussions, online and in-person. I do think that editors need to do more fact-checking. I feel that it is unfair for people to pretend that fictionalized versions of their lives are factual and true. There are many good writers who want to publish real memoirs and autobiographies who can’t get an editor’s attention because of all these lies. I think that publishers should make authors sign a statement that their memoir/autobiography is factual and that the author will pay damages to readers if the book contains blatantly false statements.
Thanks, Janet. Memoir is indeed a tricky business.