Skip to main content


Literary Hoaxes and Cultural Authenticity

Writing a new page in the surprisingly long history of literary deceit, Impostors examines a series of literary hoaxes, deceptions that involved flagrant acts of cultural appropriation. This book looks at authors who posed as people they were not, in order to claim a different ethnic, class, or other identity. These writers were, in other words, literary usurpers and appropriators who trafficked in what Christopher L. Miller terms the “intercultural hoax.”

In the United States, such hoaxes are familiar. Forrest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree and JT LeRoy’s Sarah are two infamous examples. Miller’s contribution is to study hoaxes beyond our borders, employing a comparative framework and bringing French and African identity hoaxes into dialogue with some of their better-known American counterparts. In France, multiculturalism is generally eschewed in favor of universalism, and there should thus be no identities (in the American sense) to steal. However, as Miller demonstrates, this too is a ruse: French universalism can only go so far and do so much. There is plenty of otherness to appropriate. This French and Francophone tradition of imposture has never received the study it deserves. Taking a novel approach to this understudied tradition, Impostors examines hoaxes in both countries, finding similar practices of deception and questions of harm.  

272 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory, Romance Languages


“Smart and engaging.” 

Louis Menand | New Yorker

"Miller’s elegant book makes one feel for the dupes who praised a work’s authenticity. He shows that many found what they wanted to hear in these impostures. . . . Impostors ultimately becomes a study of the nature of authorship and the act of reading."

Rohan McWilliam | Times Higher Education

“In this fascinating study of intercultural literary hoaxes, Christopher L. Miller provides a useful, brief history of American literary impostures as a backdrop for his investigation of France’s literary history of ‘ethnic usurpation.’ Presenting each case in a lively and engaging manner, Miller also expertly delves into critical issues of cultural authenticity through his nuanced consideration of critical theory. This beautifully written volume is an essential addition to the field.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

“In this book, Miller takes us on an exciting tour of postcolonial and world literature, guiding us through the literary maze of the real and the pretenders to the real, sorting out fact from fiction in a world where the two are often part of each other. All fiction is hoax, but not all hoax is fiction; it is just that, a hoax. In the process, he helps us think through issues of authenticity and false authenticity, identity and stolen identities. In this era of accusations and counteraccusations of fake news, I can’t think of a study more relevant to our times.”

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, author of Wizard of the Crow

Impostors is another brilliant intervention by Miller on representation and difference. Applying his astonishing erudition and sharp comparative eye to a variety of cases, Miller elaborates a generative theory of ‘intercultural hoaxes,’ inviting us to take seriously their consequences as contentious literary events.”

Lydie E. Moudileno, Marion Frances Chevalier Professor of French, University of Southern California

"Miller is an accomplished author and scholar, a pioneer of Francophone literature in the American academy, and his work is a touchstone for Francophone Studies more globally. There is no existing book like this one, in its particular comparative approach, in its attention to the complexities of the hoax, and what it entails for our reading praxes. In its genre, Impostors is without a doubt an original work of scholarship."

Lia Brozgal, University of California, Los Angeles

Table of Contents


Part 1 The Land of the Free and the Home of the Hoax

            Slave Narratives and White Lies
            The Forrest and the Tree
            Danny Santiago and the Ethics of Ethnicity
            Go Ask Amazon
            “I Never Saw It As a Hoax”: JT LeRoy
            Margaret B. Jones, Misha Defonseca, and “Stolen Suffering”
            Minority Literature and Postcolonial Theory

Part 2 French and Francophone, Fraud and Fake

            What Is a (French) Author?
            The French Paradox and the Francophone Problem
            The Real, the Romantic, and the Fake in the Nineteenth Century
            The Single-Use Hoax: Diderot’s La Religieuse
            Mérimée’s Illyrical Illusions
            Bakary Diallo: Fausse-Bonté
            Elissa Rhaïs, Literacy, and Identity
            Sex and Temperament in Postwar Hoaxing: Boris Vian and Raymond Queneau
            Did Camara Lie? Two African Classics Between Canonicity and Oblivion
            Gary/Ajar: The Hoaxing of the Goncourt Prize and the Making-Cute of the Immigrant
            Who Is Chimo? Sex, Lies, and Death in the Banlieue
            Conclusion to Part 2

Part 3 I Can’t Believe It’s Not Beur: Jack-Alain Léger, Paul Smaïl, and Vivre me tue

            Before “Paul Smaïl”
            Vivre me tue (Living Kills Me, or Smile)
            The Popular Press Reads Vivre me tue
            Smaïl Speaks (by Fax)
            The Leak
            Did “Hundreds” of Readers Write to Paul Smaïl?
            Truth and Lies à la Léger
            The Scholars Weigh In
            Azouz Begag’s Outrage and the Right to Write
            Reading: A Choice?
            The Parts He Played

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press