Apr 182011

The CBS News report questioned, in particular, a central anecdote of the book that was as dramatic as it was inspirational: in 1993, Mr. Mortenson was retreating after failing to reach the summit of K2, the world’s second highest mountain, when, lost and dehydrated, he stumbled across the small village of Korphe in northeast Pakistan. After the villagers there nursed him back to health, he vowed to return and build a school.

The CBS report, broadcast on “60 Minutes” Sunday night and citing sources, said that Mr. Mortenson had actually visited Korphe nearly one year after his K2 attempt. Mr. Mortenson said on Sunday that he did reach Korphe after his climb in 1993, and that he visited again in 1994.

But he added a disclaimer in an interview with The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, saying that while he stood by the information in the book, “the time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993.”

Viking has maintained near silence since the report trickled out on Friday, saying on Saturday that it relied on its authors “to tell the truth, and they are contractually obligated to do so.”

For the publisher, the situation with Mr. Mortenson was not as clear cut as it was with another of its authors, Margaret Seltzer, who wrote “Love and Consequences,” a memoir discovered to be fraudulent only days after it was published in 2008. Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin that published “Love and Consequences,” immediately recalled all 19,000 copies, offered refunds to readers who had bought it and canceled Ms. Seltzer’s book tour.

via Greg Mortenson, ‘Three Cups of Tea’ Author, Disputes CBS Report – NYTimes.com.

  6 Responses to “Truth & Untruth in Memoir”

  1. Mountain climbers never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Why do you think we start every story in the same way: “No shit, there I was …” This explains the ratio of mountains climbed to books written about those climbs, approximately 1:1.

  2. Mortenson responds to this report here:

    He more or less admits that he “simplified” the mountain-climbing account. What’s important, though, is the work his foundation does. According to him; but evidently there are questions about that, too.

    This book was (ghost)written by a former Iowa instructor, David Oliver Relin. I wonder what responsibility he bears for the accuracy of the accounts therein. Three Cups of Tea makes Mortenson out to be a holy man, pretty much; you won’t find much critical of Mortenson or his mission in it.

  3. The Autohagiography is a pretty well established literary form. A multitude of politicians, Hollywood producers, exCEO’s, and even writers have honed the form. The Memoir is a related form giving even more wiggle room (as I think Vidal pointed out somewhere) in which it doesn’t have to be exactly what happened, but what I remember happening. Mix in ghost writing, as Court points out, and factual truth becomes barely a guideline, let alone a hard and fast rule.

  4. And the plot thickens: coverage on CNN which makes Mortenson look very bad, indeed – http://www.cnn.com/2011/SHOWBIZ/04/17/three.cups.of.tea.controversy/index.html?hpt=Sbin

    Granted, the man has yet to defend himself on camera, and we should wait to hear for his side of the story. It seems as though he has done a lot of good, but perhaps not by always telling the truth. Which outweighs which, I wonder?

  5. In the “old days” writers wrote novels; nobody cared if they were lying.

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