*Ø* Another Aussie literary 'hoax'
It was very difficult to tell the story, because I relived the story while I was writing it, but at the same time, I relive it on a daily basis. I mean, it's not something that I forget. It's something that I live with.
Norma Khouri, Viewpoint, 2003
There have been some splendid Australian literary hoaxes
Best known among them is probably the Ern Malley affair
in which two prominent poets managed to take the mickey out of modern poetry when their invented 'Ern Malley' became, briefly, an accepted, even popular, poet. Poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart threw words together at random to great effect. (Today some say the nonsense 'Malley' wrote is pretty good even though it was exposed as a gag much to the laughter of the Oz public.) Nevertheless, Max Harris, the Angry Penguins
journal publisher who was taken in by the joke, went on to become perhaps the country's most successful bookman.
Then there was Helen Demidenko
(pictured at left), who won two prestigious awards, the Vogel and the Miles Franklin, for her first novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper
. Naturally enough, the book was a best seller ... especially when it turned out that Ms Demidenko was not who she claimed to be. She was "the daughter not, as she claim[ed], of an illiterate Ukrainian taxi driver from Cairns but of a Brisbane couple, Harry and Grace Darville, who arrived on our shores from nowhere more exotic that Scunthorpe [England]". Largely because her book offended some sensibilities of the politically correct, the pretence was turned into a national scandal and talking point of Monica Lewinski proportions.
In 1980, Paul Radley won the Vogel Award (it's for writers aged under 35). Truth was, his middle-aged uncle had written it. In another celebrated case, a white male author had himself published as a black female author, just to prove that the literary establishment wouldn't know the difference.
Now we have Norma Khouri
Khouri's Forbidden Love
was published two years ago in at least 15 countries and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Australia alone, pretty amazing when you consider the population of Australia is only 20 million. It was flavour of the month, in fact, of the year, around the time Oz co-pre-emptively invaded Iraq. I confess haven't read it (the title alone is enough to put anyone off, I would have thought), but from all accounts it contains very disturbing anti-Muslim passages, which would have fitted quite nicely the dominant paradigm as purveyed by Australia's government. One thing's certain, if it had attacked some other religions it wouldn't have got past the Australian Literazis.
Ms Khouri did the usual celeb author tours and had them sobbing in the aisles with her tale of her miserable life in Jordan.
Trouble is, before living in Australia, she spent all but the first three years of her life living in the USA. Her publisher has apparently withdrawn the book, while on the way to the bank, and meanwhile booksellers are frantically shifting Forbidden Love
off the Non Fic shelves and onto the Fic (I guess (((shudder)))) Mills & Boon
Khouri, who lives in an expensive estate in Queensland, has denied her book was a hoax and has said that she is gathering documentation to back up her claims.
The plot thickens:
"An investigation by The Australian
has revealed that a US court has been told the 34-year-old besieged author was forced to flee Chicago, where she lived from the age of 3 until four years ago, after being pursued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which claims she and her husband were being investigated for fraud.
"She was also once accused of beating her mother-in-law and threatening to kill her, but the case was dropped.
"An affidavit in 2001 with the Circuit Court of Cook County filed by a Chicago attorney in one of numerous court cases involving Khouri - known here by either her maiden name, Bagain, or Toliopoulos, her married name - states that an FBI agent had alleged she had, in 1999, 'fled the country in an effort to avoid prosecution'."
'Hoax' author fled US pursued by FBI