The controversy surrounding the "Julia" chapter of PENTIMENTO (which incidentally was adapted into one of my very favorite films) will likely never be resolved for good and all; the persons involved are all dead and frankly I have never been able to come up with a halfway decent motive for a writer as brilliant as Hellman to invent a story when her own life was so turbulent in and of itself. Surely she had more than enough material available to her from her own true-life story to have no need to make something up. Also I am convinced that had the "Julia" chapter been an invention, Hellman's own role in the story would have not only been more prominent but she would not have admitted to being such a rotten choice for anyone to smuggle anything anywhere; most of the time she does not know what she's doing and it is only through a network of allies and sheer luck that the smuggling operation was successful at all.
Be that as it may, PENTIMENTO is one of the best memoirs I have ever read. Unlike so many autobiographical works, often written with the assistance of a ghostwriter to smooth out the rough edges, PENTIMENTO is fragmented, the construction is loose, and Hellman frequently admits to both gaps in her memory or the possibility that her memory is clouded with the passage of time.
Wikipedia refers to this book as a "fictional memoir." To dub the entire book fiction simply because one chapter has been the subject of (unresolved) dispute seems not only an overreaction but unfair; reading this "book of portraits" (Hellman's own description), the writer's voice is clear even when her memory is not, and there is more than enough easily corroborated information here (the antics of Tallulah Bankhead during the production of THE LITTLE FOXES in particular were widely known and part of the reason that Bankhead was never quite trusted in Hollywood despite her great talent) to repeatedly raise the question "why?" Why make things up when she did not need to? And why is it that the only chapter that has been dragged through the mud amid cries of "Fraud!" the one chapter that actually ended up being made into a movie?
PENTIMENTO is a great read written by a tremendously gifted writer. I see no reason to doubt what she wrote, but even if you approach it as fiction, it's still great. It's haunting, it draws the reader into Hellman's world, and it is quite unforgettable both as a portrait of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett and the author's view of the world in which she lived and worked.
I also should mention that Hellman does not spare herself here; when she made a fool of herself, she says so, and even in the Julia episode she does not even attempt to portray herself as anything like a hero.
Never mess with a middle-aged, Bipolar queen with AIDS and an attitude problem!