I loved the book Three Cups of Tea. You likely did also if you read it. This morning The New York Times carried an investigative story that questions the veracity of the central narrative about stumbling upon Korphe, a village in Afghanistan, after failing to reach the peak of the mountain K2.

Here’s the story:

‘Three Cups of Tea’ Author Defends Book

By JULIE BOSMAN and STEPHANIE STROM

“While the publishing industry waited to see whether it faced the embarrassment of yet another partly fabricated memoir, Greg Mortenson, the co-author of the best-selling “Three Cups of Tea,” a book popular with the Pentagon for its inspirational lessons on Afghanistan and Pakistan, forcefully countered a CBS News report on Sunday that questioned the facts of his book and the management of his charitable organization.

The report could puncture a hole in the uplifting narrative of “Three Cups of Tea,” which has fed a charity run by Mr. Mortenson, the Central Asia Institute. The institute has built schools, mostly for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The report has also revived a chronic concern in the publishing industry over the accuracy of nonfiction memoirs, which are typically only lightly fact-checked by publishers, if at all.

Viking, the imprint of Penguin Group USA that published “Three Cups of Tea,” declined to comment on the book or answer questions about how it was vetted.

The CBS News report questioned, in particular, a central anecdote of the book that was as dramatic as it was inspirational: in 1993, Mr. Mortenson was retreating after failing to reach the summit of K2, the world’s second highest mountain, when, lost and dehydrated, he stumbled across the small village of Korphe in northeast Pakistan. After the villagers there nursed him back to health, he vowed to return and build a school.”

Read the whole story here.

I agree with author William Zinsser, as I have stated elsewhere on this blog, that factual truthtelling is important in memoir. But I still admire Mortenson’s book and his mission. This kind of compression of events seems less offensive than James Frey’s over-dramatization of his addictions, perhaps because it serves nobler ends. However, the 60 Minutes charges of misusing funds for personal gain hurt the most. Do you buy Mortenson’s explanation?

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