For Such A Travesty
UPDATE: Bethany House, the publishers of For Such A Time, issued a statement in response to the complaints they have received about the book. The statement is a classic, eminently teachable, example of a non-apology. I’m not going to link to the official post. Instead, here a couple of posts that offer both the original statement and responses:
KK Hendin: Bethany House’s Statement, Rewritten
Jackie Barbosa: Bethany House’s Statement and Our Response (the “our” refers to the group of us who read the book together)
Janine’s and my joint discussion of For Such a Time is up at Dear Author. In addition, there have been several excellent posts that summarize, critique, and give you an idea of what it was like to read this book. I was part of a group of readers who took on the project at the same time, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I could have finished otherwise (some of us read the whole thing, others didn’t). They helped me understand aspects of the story that I was less familiar with, and we commiserated. A lot. I encourage you to read their takes, and I’ll update the list as necessary:
Kelly Instalove: Just Because You Can … Doesn’t Mean You Should
Jackie Barbosa: About *That* Book (AKA the Nazi Romance Everyone’s Talking About
Ros Clarke: Not A Review of That Book
Janine and me: Joint Discussion: For Such A Time by Kate Breslin
Emily Hubbard: A Sad (but not angry) Letter to Bethany House
Joanne Renaud: For Such a Time: I Discuss THAT BOOK
Janine read 35 percent of the book before she had to stop. As I said in the post, I’m in awe that she was able to get that far, given her family background and her childhood in Israel. We tried to address various misconceptions and inaccuracies that have been floating around the intertubes. Some are straightforward.
- No, the heroine was not presumed to be non-Jewish because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, but because she had false papers. It is probable that her features helped make the claim more credible, but what mattered to the Nazis was Jewish blood, not looks.
- No, the heroine is not converted by the end of the book, or at least not in the sense of explicitly accepting Jesus as her lord and savior. However, no supposedly Jewish character thinks or practices religion in a way that reflects actual Judaism. They all feel kind of Christian. 21stC Christian at that. Think of them as Christianized rather than actively converted.
- No, the Nazi hero is not engaged in genocidal activities while romance blossoms. The text goes into many contortions to exculpate the hero from such a charge. It’s very odd to read: he is on familiar terms with Himmler and Eichmann, but somehow he’s kept away from tangible acts (except for one, which winds up having our heroine feel sorrier for him than she does for herself).
- No, the hero doesn’t rape the heroine. This is an inspirational. The heroine isn’t allowed to have sex of any kind. She’s coerced and imprisoned and her romantic feelings are indistinguishable from Stockholm Syndrome, but the book is not “rapey.” The only people having rapey thoughts are the villainous Nazis (as opposed to the two Good Nazis) and they don’t get to act on them (see above: Inspirational Romance).
Because so much of the conversation has drawn on only one or two reviews, other equally egregious aspects of the fictionalization have gone unnoticed. For me, the erasure of the actual people in Theresienstadt and the distortion of the historical record to make a “happy ending” are unforgivable. And it’s not as if the author didn’t know what she was doing. From the author’s note:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this story, a tale of redemption through faith and the power of God’s love, and how the Jewish people struggled against their monsters and finally won the day.
Sadly, it’s fiction.
The note goes on to document all the ways in which the fictional story we’ve just read diverged from the history. This isn’t an author who is just getting things wrong from lack of research. This book is the result of a conscious decision to falsify the historical record of a terrible time. I ended my part of the DA post with a recap of some of the distortions:
Since I managed to finish the book, I wanted to say a bit about the rest of the novel. I began the book doing my best to give it a fair read, accepting the possibility of the premise going in. I wasn’t drawn in by the writing, but I gave the book the benefit of the doubt for quite a while. I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a group reading and discussion of the book, and the other readers helped me understand some of the Christian language. As the story went on, even I could see how inauthentic the depiction of Stella/Hadassah’s and the other Jewish characters’ spiritual thoughts were. The word salvation occurs so many times, and there are references to heaven and hell that don’t seem right. I understand that Hadassah is supposed to be Esther, but having her called “the one” just jarred and felt disturbing.
But where the book really lost me was when Aric decides to help the prisoners,
[ALL THE SPOILERS]
by hijacking an Auschwitz transport train that is scheduled to leave Theresienstadt the day before the Red Cross Delegation is going to show up. This delegate visit is a real-life event, moved up in the novel for time-compression reasons. Theresienstadt has to be turned into a model facility to assure the Red Cross and other delegates that prisoners are being properly treated. The way this is dealt with in the story is ridiculous; the Evil Nazis are beating up the inmates even though they need to show them as being healthy and well cared for. Then it gets worse. Aric, Hadassah, Uncle Morty and others fill up the transport quota and figure out a plan to divert the train from Poland to Lvov. Meanwhile, the rest of the camp residents, who are the oldest and most infirm, greet the Red Cross delegation (who are consistently and incorrectly described in the book as “the Swiss”). The delegation is furious and the Nazi plan fails.
In fact, the Nazis were successful at creating a fiction of a healthy environment. It took months of preparation, so none of the events in the book could have happened in the way they do. The delegation spent six hours in the ghetto, heard some of the music and performance for which Theresienstadt was well known, and left, filing a positive report. The story we read in the pages of this book erases that shame and suggests the delegation saw beyond the fiction. They didn’t, and it is something that should never be papered over, least of all for reasons of storytelling convenience. It’s one thing to alter facts to create a more real-feeling “truth.” It’s another to write a lie to get your main characters to an HEA.
[REMEMBER, ALL THE SPOILERS]
Aric, Hadassah, and their merry band successfully load up the Auschwitz-bound train and divert it all the way to the Ukrainian border, from where they will walk the “few kilometers” to Lvov. The Evilest Nazi (Hermann who is the novel’s analogy to Haman) manages to get on the train and there is … wait for it … a top-of-the-train fight scene with Aric, Hermann, and Hadassah. I am not kidding. The train doesn’t make it quite to its hoped-for destination because they reach a section where the tracks are destroyed, but many of the escaping Jews survive (there is both a train crash and a gunfight with pursuing Nazis, who have been tipped off about the stolen train).
Do I have to spell out why this is so horrifically awful? Theresienstadt was not a designated death camp, but it was a major transit camp to Auschwitz starting in 1942 (and before that it was a transit camp to other eastern destinations, including the death camp Treblinka). There were dozens of transport trains carrying tens of thousands of Jews. None of them were hijacked by the Good Guys. To rewrite this reality is abominable in a novel which claims to respect the memory of the Holocaust. With that knowledge in my mind, the “happy ending” was almost unendurable to read. Yes, Hadassah and Aric are together at the end. Morty is still alive, as is Joseph, one of the children Hadassah befriended at Theresienstadt. Aric expects to be brought to account for his role in the war, which was about the only bit of reality I could find at that point.
The only reason I started this book was because I didn’t want to talk about it without having read it. The only reason I finished it was because if Janine could get through 35 percent, I could gut my way through the rest. I am astonished and in awe of the fact that Laura Curtis read to the end.
I have never been so glad to get a cover off my ereader and move on to something new.