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In Europe, Autobiography Counts as Fiction

PW Daily’s European correspondent Rüdiger Wischenbart comments on what might seem unusual to US and UK book trade but is common practice in Europe: memoirs and any form of autobiography is automatically classified as fiction. So all that controversy surrounding Gunter Grass’s memoir PEELING THE ONION? It matters, but less than we might think because it’s not considered to be true-blue nonfiction.

So why is that the case? Olivier Nora, head of the prestigious house Grasset, now part of the Hachette universe, adds both pragmatic as well as fundamental pieces to the riddle. On the one hand, he says to PW, only fiction titles can be picked for certain prestigious awards that are often a key to success in France. But, more profoundly, he points to that long tradition of French “auto-fiction”, of “telling the world”, or even, in the words of the poet Louis Aragon, of “mentir vrai” (or, “to lie truthfully”), which all push those narratives towards fiction. Bernhard Fetz, a Vienna-based researcher with the Austrian National Library specializing in all types of biography, is even more succinct: “While Germany, or France, have a mostly idealist tradition in culture, Britain, and hence the U.S., have always had a more pragmatic approach.”

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