Book optioned by James Cameron is halted

Publisher cancels publication of Hiroshima book because author "was not able" to answer concerns


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Hillel Italie
March 2, 2010 7:49PM (UTC)

Publication has been halted for a disputed book about the atomic bombing of Japan that "Avatar" director James Cameron had optioned for a possible film, The Associated Press has learned.

Publisher Henry Holt and Company, responding to questions from the AP, said Monday that author Charles Pellegrino "was not able to answer" concerns about "The Last Train from Hiroshima," including whether two men mentioned in the book actually existed.

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"It is with deep regret that Henry Holt and Company announces that we will not print, correct or ship copies of Charles Pellegrino's 'The Last Train from Hiroshima,'" the publisher said in a statement issued to the AP.

Doubts were first raised about the book a week ago after Pellegrino acknowledged that one of his interview subjects had falsely claimed to be on one of the planes accompanying the Enola Gay, from which an atom bomb was dropped by the United States on Hiroshima in 1945. Holt had initially promised to send a corrected edition.

But further doubts about the book emerged. The publisher was unable to determine the existence of a Father Mattias (the first name is not given) who supposedly lived in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing, and John MacQuitty, identified as a Jesuit scholar presiding over Mattias' funeral

"I read a number of books on this period of time and none of them mentioned Mattias or MacQuitty. I knew there was no way those people could have been omitted if they were real," said history professor Barton Bernstein of Stanford University.

Pellegrino's own background was also questioned. He sometimes refers to himself as Dr. Pellegrino, and his Web site lists him as receiving a Ph.D. in 1982 from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. But in response to a query from the AP, the school said it had no proof that Pellegrino had such a degree.

"It is easy to understand how even the most diligent author could be duped by a source, but we also understand that opens that book to very detailed scrutiny," according to the statement from Holt.

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"The author of any work of nonfiction must stand behind its content. We must rely on our authors to answer questions that may arise as to the accuracy of their work and reliability of their sources. Unfortunately, Mr. Pellegrino was not able to answer the additional questions that have arisen about his book to our satisfaction."

E-mail to Pellegrino was not immediately answered. Cameron's office had no immediate comment.

Holt publicist Nicole Dewey said 18,000 copies of the book, published in January, were in print. The publisher "will issue full credit to wholesalers and retailers who wish to return the book. Consumers who seek a refund should return to the retailer from whom they purchased the book," Monday's statement said.

As of Monday afternoon, "Last Train" was ranked at 244 on the Amazon.com best-seller list. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks around 75 percent of industry sales, the book has sold 7,000 copies.

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The book's fate not only means the likely demise of the film deal with Cameron, who provided a blurb for "Last Train," but complicates the long history of collaboration between the director and Pellegrino, who served as an adviser for "Avatar," the box-office champ that has been nominated for nine Academy Awards.

Cameron wrote introductions for Pellegrino's "Ghosts of the Titanic," published in 2000, and for the controversial 2007 release "The Jesus Family Tomb," co-authored by Pellegrino and strongly questioned by scholars for its assertion that a tomb discovered in Jerusalem contained the remains of Jesus and possible family members.

"The Last Train from Hiroshima" had received strong reviews, including a rave from The New York Times' Dwight Garner, who called it a "sober and authoritative new book" and a "gleaming, popular wartime history." Pellegrino first acknowledged flaws in the book when he told the Times last month that he had been misled by Joseph Fuoco, who had claimed he was a last-minute replacement for flight engineer James R. Corliss.

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Hillel Italie

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