“The remorse here is personal. I betrayed some people whom I had grown to like. With whom I’d made jokes and broke bread. And in doing so I joined, to my dismay, the great global souk, a marketplace of bad company and bad faith.”
Lee Israel, Can You ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger
Lee Israel’s book Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger* tells the story of a once-successful author who turns to forging letters by celebrities in order to make money. It is Israel’s actual life story and she tells it with humour, honesty, and the perfect amount of words. Israel’s book is a relatively short read, but it answers all questions the reader may have and Israel has a way with words that allows the reader to easily follow not just her thought process, but also her emotions throughout her career in crime. This is one of the things I loved most about this book - while you read it, you feel with Israel. You understand they “why” behind her actions and it feels more like reading a diary.
Israel did not plan to end up being a forger (who really plans for that?) but had tried to make it as an author. And at first, she made it. But when money stopped rolling in, she needed to find a way to make money. And so she started writing letters by dead people who were famous. The book explains the process she went through - from researching the characters, their stationary, and the vocabulary they used and it is interesting to see how much work goes into the crime of forging. Israel also stole some original letters from libraries and sold these too. But eventually, the authorities caught onto her as she got a little too creative in her letters and people who had known the dead celebrities knew that the supposed authors of these letters would have never written such letters. The dealers of these letters started getting suspicious and Israel got more anxious:
“I’ve spent my life in a state of high anxiety, waiting for the Cossacks. I am always worried. When one cause of worry exits my skull it is replaced immediately by another. They meet shoulder to shoulder, one entering, the other exiting the cave leading to my tympanic membrane. So the din that had been created by my knowing that the dealers were onto me had not been a whole lot different from the time in high school when I hadn’t studied for a Spanish test; the worry over discovery, moreover, was assuaged by the fact that I thought the dealers would eschew any action that might bring publicity to their murky trade.”
I highly recommend this book - it tells the story of an author who ended up in crime and got convicted for it. It tells the story of Israel’s criminal career from start to finish with an amazing amount of humour and it also contains some of the letters Israel forged (some of them are, admittedly, quite entertaining and I agree with Israel that she did good work on many of them).
Lots of Love,
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The title picture of today's post was taken by Simon Hinger. You can find his amazing photography here: https://www.instagram.com/simonhinger/ (unpaid ad)
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