Il caso di Tommaso Debenedetti, il giornalista che si era evidentemente inventato le interviste scoop a Philip Roth e John Grisham, sta diventando materia da film: il New Yorker – in Italia non se ne è occupato nessuno neanche dopo che il Venerdì aveva sollevato la questione – ha scoperto un’altra montagna di apparenti falsi e ha parlato con Debenedetti.
Last night, in the online archives of Il Piccolo, a local paper published in Trieste where the Vidal Q. & A. first appeared, I found more than twenty additional interviews under Debenedetti’s byline purporting to be conversations by telephone or in person with some of the most eminent figures in world literature. The earliest was from 2006; the most recent was published last month. More than half of his subjects were Nobel laureates.
I began contacting these writers and their representatives. As of this afternoon:
- Toni Morrison denies ever having spoken to Debenedetti.
- E. L. Doctorow told me that the language and, in particular, the imagery, attributed to him are “impossible.”
- Philip Roth was amused to hear that Debenedetti had published a second interview with him, from 2009.
- Gunter Grass “has a good memory,” his German editor, Helmut Frielinghaus, told me by e-mail, yet he cannot recall Debenedetti. And Frielinghaus reads all of Grass’s interviews but never saw this one before.
- Nadine Gordimer, according to her literary agent, could not recognize her own voice.
- The wife of Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio told me that it was “extremely improbable” that her husband had ever spoken with Debenedetti or expressed the opinions attributed to him. (Le Clézio was alleged to have deplored the proposed French ban on the burqa in public buildings.) “It sounds crazy,” she said.
- A publicist for Herta Müller said that the reclusive Romanian-born writer almost never speaks to journalists, and certainly did not give an interview to Debenedetti.
A. B. Yehoshua and Scott Turow had no recollection of Debenedetti, but they and others are double-checking their records. Also in the archives are V. S. Naipaul, José Saramago, J. M. Coetzee, Wilbur Smith, Meir Shalev, Amos Oz, Elie Wiesel, and the Iranian lawyer and human-rights activist Shirin Ebadi.
In the meantime, I reached the managing editor of Il Piccolo, Alessandro Mazzena Lona, on his cell phone. Mazzena Lona told me that he had learned about the fabrications only half an hour before my call, from one of his colleagues, with whom I had just spoken.
Mazzena Lona said he met Tommaso Debenedetti several years ago. Debenedetti, he explained, is the son of the Italian writer Antonio Debenedetti and the grandson of Giacomo Debenedetti, whom Mazzena Lona described as “our greatest literary critic of the twentieth century.” Mazzena Lona had never seen documentation for any of the quotations or paraphrases published in Il Piccolo, but he had never asked for any, since he saw no reason to doubt that a Debenedetti would have such connections in the literary world: “It is a very serious, great family,” Mazzena Lona said, “with deep roots, I believe, in the Jewish community of Rome.” The editor also pointed out, however, that Tommaso Debenedetti was a freelancer who lived far from Trieste.