Confronting Father’s Mountain of Exaggerations

Maurice Herzog's Daughter Takes on Alpine Embellishments

Summit of Deceit: Maurice Herzog (seen here in 2005) allegedly embellished his 1951 memoir ‘Annapurna.’
Getty Images
Summit of Deceit: Maurice Herzog (seen here in 2005) allegedly embellished his 1951 memoir ‘Annapurna.’

By Benjamin Ivry

Published October 13, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Born in Lyon, France, in 1919, the legendary mountaineer Maurice Herzog was the leader of a 1950 expedition that was the first to conquer Annapurna, a peak that is part of the Himalayas in north central Nepal. Returning with frostbite that necessitated the amputation of his fingers and toes, Herzog wrote “Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak,” the classic 1951 account of his adventure.

“Annapurna” has sold millions of copies and is often termed the most influential book ever published on mountaineering, even if its grandiose style reportedly helped inspire “The Ascent of Rum Doodle” by W. E. Bowman, a 1956 British novel that parodied vainglorious mountain memoirists.

Decades later, Herzog’s account was challenged by critics, who claimed that it was self-serving and that it minimized the contributions of other members of his team. David Roberts’ “True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna” (2000) described Herzog, a former French Resistance fighter, as an adventurer thirsty for glory first and foremost and a mountaineer second. The eminent climber Gaston Rébuffat, who was part of Herzog’s expedition, told interviewers that Herzog’s book overlooked the contributions of his guide, Louis Lachenel, to the point of crediting to Herzog photos of Herzog taken at the mountain’s peak that had actually been taken by Lachenel.

To readers around the world unaware of such disputes, Herzog is still an icon, and to them, “A Hero,” written by his daughter Félicité and recently released in France, may rival the shock of a mountain avalanche. Félicité, a director of development at French nuclear energy conglomerate Areva, calls her book a novel although none of the names or, indeed, any of the facts have been changed to protect anyone. This summer, during an appearance at a Paris bookstore, Félicité Herzog referred to her book as an “autobiographical novel, but a novel all the same.” There may be an element of charity in classifying “A Hero” as a novel. It’s written in a freewheeling, vivacious prose style with a dollop of sarcastic gusto. For example, a typical ex-girlfriend of her father, a serial adulterer, is described here as “an adept of Big Hair” (with the words “Big Hair” in English).

In the novel, Félicité describes her ambitious father’s trajectory post-Annapurna: He was appointed France’s Minister of Youth and Sport from 1958 to 1963, in the government of Charles de Gaulle, and was later elected mayor of the alpine town of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. For a quarter-century starting in 1970, he served as a member of the International Olympic Committee. Still, for Félicité something about her father “wasn’t genuine.” An especially low point was when he praised the far right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen to her as “an exceptional, I’d even say marvelous, fellow.” Félicité retorted: “You find someone who called the extermination of the Jews a ‘mere detail’ of history… a marvelous fellow?” Her father responded by inviting her to a society dinner where Le Pen was an honored guest, and she watched with dismay as Herzog nodded approvingly while the politician held forth.

“My father wasn’t a father,” she writes. “Beyond the fabulous legend which he created for himself, which he fought to preserve every step of the way, he behaved as if he had no wish to hand anything down.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.