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Monday, August 4, 2008 9:28 am
Forging the Truth
Posted by: Keir Graff

Lee Israel, a biographer fallen on hard times, turned to theft and forgery to make ends meet. She was good–two of her phony Noel Coward letters were included in last year’s The Letters of Noel Coward (Knopf). Somewhat contrite, she’s now published a book about her crimes, called Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Simon & Schuster). (And she’s not really asking. That’s a line she put in the mouth of Dorothy Parker.) From the New York Times (“She Says It’s True, Her Memoir of Forging,” by Julie Bosman):

Hers is not a memoir in the style of Margaret Seltzer, whose account, as Margaret B. Jones, of gang life in South-Central Los Angeles turned out to be completely bogus; or Mr. Frey, whose books “A Million Little Pieces” and “My Friend Leonard” contained exaggerated and fabricated details about his drug addiction and recovery.

“Their memoirs were fraudulent, and my memoir is not fraudulent,” said Ms. Israel, who gave her age as “somewhere in my 60s.” “But I did fraudulent things.”

Thomas Mallon (Fellow Travelers, 2007), reviewing the book for the Times (“Forging On“), writes that, even though she was bad, she’s good:

If I were a librarian, I wouldn’t let Lee Israel through the door, but I’d certainly make sure I had her latest book on the shelves. If I were an editor, I’d sign her up to write a biography of Louise Brooks — and not just to keep her out of trouble.

But how’s she going to write that book if she can’t get into the library?

Update: In the New York Post (“Forging a Literary Path“), Michael Riedel shares a personal encounter with Lee Israel.


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