One of the books shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction, which will be awarded tomorrow (4th November), has been accused of being “riddled with errors”, the Sunday Times has reported.
Caroline Moorehead’s Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France (Chatto & Windus) is up against five other titles for the £25,000 prize.
The Sunday Times reported that one couple involved in the events chronicled in the book, Hanne and Max Liebmann, have written to the judges of the Samuel John Prize to ask that the book be disqualified from the competition, saying: “This book is a scandal…It should not have been published.”
Moorehead has defended the book, as has Chatto & Windus, which said the author “documents her research with care and is always scrupulously balanced and fair in all her books”.
Hanne Liebmann’s complaints include that the book wrongly states her mother bartered for cognac in a French internment camp, was forced to eat rats, was a concert pianist, and said that paper was stuffed into cracks in hut walls to keep out draughts. The Liebmanns, who now live in America, also complained about the portrayal of Andre Trocme, a Huguenot pastor, as did Pierre Sauvage, whose parents were also involved in the events related in the book.
Sauvage said online, in an Amazon review that Moorehead characterises Trocme as a “self-aggrandising pathological liar”.
Moorehead told the Sunday Times: “Every word is documented in my notes… These events took place 70 years ago… This is what the memory of wars is about. Different people have truths of the past. These people don’t like the truth that I’ve put down.” She added that it was “deeply upsetting for a writer, particularly if, like me, you try to get everything right”.
A spokesman for the Samuel Johnson Prize said that the judges had been made aware of allegations about the book and had responded directly to Sauvage. The book “remains under consideration by the judges”.
The other books in the running for the £20,000 Samuel Johnson Prize are John Campbell’s Roy Jenkins (Jonathan Cape), Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (Jonathan Cape), Alison Light’s Common People (Fig Tree), Marion Coutts’ The Iceberg: A Memoir, (Atlantic), and The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin (Oneworld).
Editing note: Date corrected.