To debunk a novel means, among other things, according to several dictionaries that I have consulted, ”to expose the sham or falseness of a book.”
Some synonyms for debunk include: ”discredit, rebut, refute, shoot down, expose.”
The verb also means ”to show that something is less important, less good, or less true than it has been made to appear.”
So now that the heated controversy surrounding Heather Morris’ ”debunked” novel “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” continues to make headlines in Australia, North America and Europe, there are some important questions that still need to be asked.
What the answers will be we will find out later when literary critics and Holocaust historians, Jewish and non-Jewish, from around the world chime in with their personal takes on the novel’s strengths and weaknesses, pro and con.
There is a lot of ground to cover. Let’s begin.
My questions (and feel free to add your questions here in the comments section below or in a private email to me if you have a question that is not included in the list below) go like this.
1. Should the novel be recalled and all returned copies shredded? And should the publishers stop selling the novel immediately since it was published under what some critics have claimed were false premises?
2. Should the tagline on the cover of the novel that reads “based on a true story” be removed from all future covers of the book in future printings in all languages and in all countries, with a new cover created that reads simply ”a novel by Heather Morris”?
3. Should movie project to turn the novel into a 4-part TV series in 2020 be cancelled entirely, given the way the book has been ”debunked,” or should the TV project just be postponed until a new script that takes out the ”based on a true story” tagline from the opening credits and whose storyline reflects the criticism and critical remarks the book has received from literary critics, newspaper reporters and the Auschwitz Museum in Poland?
4. Should the author Heather Morris and her editor/publisher in Melbourne Angela Meyer apologize publicly in an op-ed in a major Australian newspaper (or the New York Times or the UK Guardian) for their mistakes in presentation and lack of true vetting of the book before publication and their lack of attention to the real facts of the Nazi Holocaust?
5. Should the Australia print, TV and radio media reflect more on how they ”enabled” this novel from the very beginning by kindly overlooking its false presentation as ”based on a true story” when in fact it wasn’t based on a true story at all? The 24-year-old Lali never first met the 18-year-old Gita the way the book says he did.
6. Should the UK Guardian delete an un-edited and un-vetted ”obituary” of Lali Sokolov published online in 2006, written and submitted by Heather Morris herself (even though she was not a member of the Sokolov family) when she was still working on the ”story” of Lali for a screenplay she intended to shop around to film producers? Why wasn’t Gary Sokolov, the deceased son, asked to write the obit instead of a non-family member?
7. Should the New York Times Sunday Book Review look critically at its glowing review of the novel in early 2018 when the book was first published and delete it from its archives since the novel has now been ”debunked,” and assign a another reviewer to write a new review or essay taking into account the critical news articles about the book in the New York Times itself from its Sydney bureau in Australia, published online on November 8, 2018?
8. Should all publishers of future Holocaust novels do more pre-publication vetting and fact-checking before the book is printed and sold in bookstores and be more sensitive to the way they ”present” the book on its cover and in promotional, marketing and PR material sent to newspapers, TV outlets and radio networks?
9. Should those Australians and Americans who gave glowing book blurbs for the novel when it launched in Australia and the US and the UK take back their earlier breathless ”blurbs” and write new ones to reflect the ongoing controversy swirling around the book now? What’s a book blurb worth if it lies to the public about a book’s true worth just so the blurb writer can curry favor with the publisher in question for future work?
10. Why has there been almost no critical commentary about the book from the Jewish media in Australia, the USA, Canada or the UK? Why haven’t Jewish newspapers and online websites been more active in taking a good hard look at how the novel was put together, edited, published and marketed? Even Jewish newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne have remained silent to this day.