More Trouble With Truthiness

You’d think nonfiction writers would learn.  I’m hoping this latest report — that Greg Mortenson allegedly fibbed in his book, THREE CUPS OF TEA, about stumbling, disoriented, into the village of Korphe in 1993 — is wrong.  But when you have 60 Minutes questioning your “facts” and the likes of Jon Krakauer asking questions you can’t seem to (or don’t want to) answer, my big red flag starts waving.

I didn’t love his book.  I liked it well enough, though, and I especially liked what Mortenson was doing to build schools for girls in the remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Now I’m feeling a little sick about the whole thing.  In an interview with The Bozeman Chronicle, he, in part, says this:

“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.  As the co-author of the book, along with David Oliver Relin, I am responsible for the content in the book. There were many people involved in the story and also those who produced the manuscript. What was done was to simplify the sequence of events for the purposes of telling what was, at times, a complicated story.”

Guess what, Greg:  all nonfiction stories are “complicated.”  And your answer sounds like a bunch of gobbledy-goop.  It’s disappointing, to say the least.  I hope you come up with something better.  Something better like, maybe, telling us all exactly what transpired, particularly on the Korphe event which is, frankly, the big dramatic start of your story.

What do I believe?  I believe Greg Mortenson has done good work, both raising money and building these schools.  So I’m willing to give this some time to see if it all shakes out in his direction, time for him to lay out exactly how all these events transpired.  But I’m worried, based on his initial responses, that it’s not going to turn out well.

What do you think about all this?

8 thoughts on “More Trouble With Truthiness

  1. MacDougal Street Baby

    This makes me so so sad. While I wasn’t thrilled with the book either, I was touched believing his path was a calling from above. To learn that it was more orchestrated than first assumed certainly dampens the spirit and tarnishes his own reputation.

    1. Teri Post author

      I understand certain devices, like time compression to make the story flow. But you can’t say you wandered into a remote village (at a specific time), lost and on your last leg, only to be saved by the villagers and promise to build them some schools —- if it didn’t happen EXACTLY like that. Jesus. Why is that so hard?

  2. erikamarks

    Honestly, I’m torn on both sides. I don’t feel good about the possibility of Mr. Mortenson’s alleged re-arranging of time and events, but I find Jon Krakauer’s vehement expose upsetting in its own way, frankly. (Or maybe it’s just the mom in me who just had a discussion with one of her children about the unsavory practice of tattling.) Either way, it’s unfortunate. Most of all, for the cause that the story is supposed to endorse and support. Whatever good works have been happening there–and I have to believe there have been some–will surely be affected by this.

    1. Lyra

      I was thinking along those lines as well. The lines between truth and fiction have become so fuzzy, people don’t seem to know the difference.

      Yet, what about the good that has been done? Even if it isn’t to the extent that had been thought (new info appears to be coming out regarding the schools) but surely some good, much good has been done. I hate the gray area in real life.

      I applaud that good was done, and want to hear that he did it because that was the only way he could generate funds for his philanthropy. Tell me that’s the deal. Real lives saved for a little fiction.

    2. Teri Post author

      I hear both of you. That this might jeopardize fund raising or the good stuff he’s done is what makes it tragic.

    3. amyg

      i agree with the krakauer observation. it feels like he’s got an agenda beyond, “let’s all be honest” b/c of his writing/work in the middle east. maybe it’s legit, but i don’t like the feel of it either.

      besides that, i hate watching the back peddling and unease of an author being confronted. it’s one thing to write, it’s another to be out loud about your writing, and then to have to admit that the story may be different than you sold it, ugh.

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