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
Laura Curtis: Yes I Read “That Book” So You Don’t Have To (Trigger Warning)
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.
[…] has another post up, summarizing her and Janine’s joint review at Dear Author, as well as providing links to […]
There are some things that should not be fictionalized, especially by outsiders, because to do so is to trivialize them. And this comes from someone who doesn’t generally have problems with fictionalized versions of historical figures.
Thank you also for setting the record straight. I understand the objection that reading the book is counterproductive, but disseminating misinformation is counterproductive too. At the very least mistakes made due to not reading the text undermine arguments against the book and makes any criticism seem uninformed – because it is uninformed.
For one thing, we should all have realized that while real-life situations like this were likely rapey, thus serving as a trigger for some, an inspirational wouldn’t be since there would be no sex. However, the romantic relationship itself is dubious and coercive because she’s not free to walk.away, though I can’t tell whether he actively woos her or not.
Thanks for commenting, and you’re welcome. There’s no good answer to the read or not-read dilemma (or rather there is more than one good answer), but focusing on things that do not happen and ignoring those that do seems obviously counter-productive. It’s the undermining of arguments against the book that motivated me as much as anything.
And of course you are absolutely right about the coercive relationship. Those criticisms are right on point and must be aired. The heroine is not in a position to give consent. Full stop. We don’t need to call it a rapefest to emphasize the sickness of calling this a romance, and the people who know the heroine and hero won’t have sex are more likely to dismiss our other points.
And yes, he does actively woo her. It’s just as unpleasant as you imagine.
Phew. Thank you for your review, your round-up of links, and your thoughts — the whole thing has just been making my skin crawl. It reminds me of that “Save the Pearls” book, in that you CAN write a thing, but that doesn’t stop it from being horribly racist and gross. It’s part of the “this person did a really not-okay thing” and not “this person is really not-okay” split that people sometimes seem to struggle with. Yeah, I think this book is pretty gross. No, I do not think people are gross for reading it, enjoying it, or the author for writing it. It’s okay to enjoy problematic things while simultaneously acknowledging they’re problematic (goodness knows, I think everyone does with something or another). It’s not okay to hurt people, though, and this treads really hard into hurting people territory.
I wouldn’t have been able to read this. I read and enjoyed (I’m not sure that’s the correct term, but I respect it, am glad I read it, and bawled my eyes out?) Code Name Verity and Orphan Train but honestly I’m pretty sure that’s as much as I can take this decade — and I’m privileged enough that I can ignore a lot of it.
I don’t think any of the specific elements of the book are like, NEVER DO THIS, it’s just the mix plus the fact that it’s like, within recent history. Someone named their band SARS and put fliers all over the city and you know what, that was too freaking soon as we were point zero and all of us knew people who were incredibly sick or died during it, and it was a scary, scary time in this city. I think we can have discussions about these things absolutely, that there are worthwhile character or scenario studies, I would read biographies about folks who did these things and how it happened/how they got their brains around it/etc. But turning other peoples’ tragedy into (fictionalized and erasive) entertainment makes me feel… gross.
As a side note, we struggle with this in video games, too. There was a really graphic torture scene in a game I worked on that required the player to actively participate to get information (you literally could not progress the game without doing it and like… it was almost a mini-game with haptic feedback and MY SKIN STILL CRAWLS) and it caused tremendous backlash just in the studio itself, and a lot of meetings of “are we doing this to just push an emotional button to get an emotional response or is this seriously necessary to the game experience”, and in the end, it was removed from the game. It’s WEIRD to have hot buttons when you’re playing a game that involves shooting 800 people or so to get squeamish about torture when we’re perfecting blood spatter pattern algorithms for gunshots. If the game was seriously meant to be dark and yet questioning this, like Spec Ops: The Line, that would be one thing, but this was a fairly formulaic game that wasn’t pushing any boundaries like that.
Of course, as our art director put it, “It’s kinda creepy that a studio full of white and black and brown people in Canada are making a game about a white dude from America who goes to other countries and kills brown people calling them terrorists, and this is the hero”, but as far as the entire studio was concerned, the hero is actually a sociopath and the whole thing is very darkly tongue-in-cheek. Unfortunately it wasn’t really received that way, and I kind of wish we could have highlighted how grossly ironic it was that the hero threatens to bomb a guy’s wife and daughter but we’re supposed to know it’s totally okay because he’s the HERO and would never really do that. There is some serious cognitive dissonance in our design team sometimes, that’s how they actually explained it.
I have a lot of feels about a lot of things!
Yes to all of this! I really wanted to treat the text as a text and figure out what was going on. I expected to kind of like it, or at least not hate it, to be honest. So much for that. You’re right, it’s the combination AND the fact that real people can (and do) come into your mind as you’re reading. It’s not far away, or you think it’s far away and then you’re reading and it’s suddenly right there, the things you forgot you knew. And by you I mean me.
We are always going to like problematic things. I don’t know what we can do about that. It’s easier with this book for me because it’s not good and it didn’t work for me. But I’ve liked plenty of books that have problems. And it’s not like the problematic books go away if you say “this must not be published.” They just morph into something else. We will always have alphaholes and bad boys, and someone will always want to write or read an envelope-pusher.
Cognitive dissonance interests me a lot. I study collective violence, and one thing I encounter repeatedly is the “good guy” telling the story of how he was just swept up by the crowd. He never mentions that he took vacation days and planned a trip to go to the place where he just happened to be swept up into that crowd.
I agree with this paragraph, completely. I’ll go further and stress the highlighted bit. It’s not enough to say, “I like what I like, and I shouldn’t apologize for it–as a romance reader in a family who regards the comic strips in the newspapers as a far more literate form of writing, I have often resorted to this statement as a way to stop their criticism of my leisure reading. That does not mean that I’m not aware of romance’s many problematic aspects, such as the wallpaper history, the emphasis on virgins and babies, etc. Seeing the warts (hat tip to Mrs Giggles), and being able to talk about them to outsiders, is important, I think.
Where I disagree with you some is that the fact that because WWII, the Nazis, concentration camps, and the systematic extermination of Jews, Roma, disabled people, etc are recent, is what makes it more problematic. Antisemitism has been going on, waxing and waning, but never truly gone, for a couple thousand years.
Jews live with it every day. Posts like this one by KK Hendin bring it home that, just like racism, antisemitism is not an event, or a period in history with discrete beginning and end dates.
Which to me means that, regardless of how long we wait, writing a genre romance novel (optimistic, uplifting ending, otherwise known as HEA mandatory) about an SS officer (let alone the head of a concentration camp) and a Jew within a concentration camp will never not harm.
I don’t think either TrundleBear or I are saying that anti-Semitism is recent, or that the only anti-Semitism worth paying attention to is 20th/21stC anti-Semitism. I do think that the intensity and extent of the reaction is due at least in part to our awareness that there are still survivors (although a dwindling number) and there is a whole generation of people who were and still are in direct contact with those survivors. And whose lives were shaped by those experiences.
I don’t think a book that focused on the 13thC expulsion of the Jews from England, with a hero who is a jailer for the King and a heroine who is a one of those marked for expulsion, would have the same reaction, however appropriative. Or even a book set during the Spanish Inquisition.
The intensity of the reaction is a very good thing (even though it’s so painful) because I think that people forget how precarious Jewish privilege is. The Jewish communities in western Europe and North America do not suffer the same structural exclusions that their forefathers did. But they do not enjoy the type of privilege Christians do, no matter how much they’ve achieved politically, socially, and economically.
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I do apologize, Sunita; I did not mean to imply that either you or TrundleBear said that antisemitism is a recent phenomenon. What I want/was trying to say is, that because it’s something that never seems to go away, I don’t think that waiting a hundred years would make the Nazi/SS officer/concentration camp commandant any less offensive as a hero.
Oh, please don’t apologize, I misunderstood you. Yes, you’re right. And even though the immediacy of the experience and the first- and second-hand relationship is no longer there, the meaning doesn’t change. I’ve seen books that use aspects of Indian history in ways that I find very unsettling because the ramifications of that history are still felt today. There is a conversation in the comments to Janine’s and my post about “blood-guilt” and I was struck by how there is always some way to justify anti-Semitism. This particular one seems to have returned after an absence, or at least a latent period. People will find ways to justify their attitudes.
Apologies: I worded things poorly, so the apology is fitting. (Plus, I have a thing about apologies: I rather err on the side of more, rather than less. When I offend, whether I meant to offend or not, I apologize.)
And I’m have been guilty of being silent when people in my family–who are otherwise decent human beings–engage in casual antisemitism, racism, homophobia, etc., which adds to my strong reaction to these things lately. My silence has contributed to the problem, to the pain of fellow human beings. Inaction and apathy are not active harm, but they are harmful all the same.
@AztecLady: Then I accept, and thank you. These are such difficult conversations to have. I’m just glad we’re having them.
No, it would not make this story any less offensive, but I think our instinctive reactions wouldn’t be so strong. I would find a similar story about the period of the Spanish Inquisition equally offensive and repulsive, but I wouldn’t respond as strongly emotionally.
Perhaps those of us who are not directly affected by antisemitism would react different after a ‘suitable’ period of time has passed, but I don’t believe we can make the assumption that Jewish people would find a Nazi hero more palatable three generations down the road.
@azteclady: You are absolutely right, and I should have made clear that I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who isn’t directly affected by antisemitism.
Thanks for the links and the conversation. I haven’t read that book. I can’t stomach the very idea of it, and I have the greatest respect for those who managed to read it, or part of it, despite the triggers.
– An accurate retelling of Esther would be an alternate reality story where the Holocaust was planned but did not actually happen (which would come with its own set of problems, of course).
– If an author wants to write a WWII romance, with the hero or the heroine on the “wrong” side, there are many ways to do that without being hurtful. There is pushing the envelope and then there is just plain being offensive.
– I can’t really explain it, but I would find a dark erotic story with the same premise much less offensive than an inspirational romance.
– Reading your earlier post, Sunita, I too think that what makes this specific book so bad is that it combines all those things you mention. I also agree that one reason that it’s so horribly repulsive is that the Holocaust is so recent in collective memory.
When I first read about that book in SBTB, I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. A romance between a Jewish woman and the head of a concentration camp? Who thought that story was a good idea, for a romance of all things? I kept “noping” and then I noticed the cover. At that point words failed me and I still want to bang my head on the wall when I remember it.
I am European, and grew up seeing mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis. I am a human being and think that any human being should feel terror when contemplating that humans were capable of treating other humans this way. Anything relevant is painful for me. But I am not Jewish. If I, an “outsider”, had such a strong guttural reaction to the mere existence of this book, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for Jewish people to read this thing, and worse, the praises for it. I’m hurt and angry and I’m not even the actual hurt party. It boggles my mind that a book like that can be written and published and nominated for awards, while people hurt by it are told they are overreacting. I can logically understand that it’s the society where the bullies prevail, where the victims are told to shut up and stop upsetting the nice people with their victim-ness, but I still can’t accept it.
I usually agree with TrundleBear and Azteclady. I usually can think that a book or film is gross, and not think that people are gross for producing or enjoying it. But in this case, I have to draw a line.
If the author or a reader think the perpetrator of genocide is a romantic hero, I’m judging them, and judging them hard. If they call themselves Christian and think this is OK, as a Christian I feel deeply ashamed. If they think the horrible suffering of so many people is suitable wallpaper for a quasi-historical story, they are really ignorant and insensitive, not to mention as un-Christian as you can get.
I understand that they come from a different, insular world, and an essentially different faith, but some things are universally unforgivable. I still think they are gross.
TL;DR: K. Locke sums it up perfectly:
“I didn’t realize that genocide turned so many people on, but there you go.”
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There is a blog post that I can’t find at the moment in which an author talks about trying to convince her critique group partner that a Kommandant-Jewish romance is a really, really bad idea. She doesn’t name Breslin, but I’m pretty sure that’s who she means. The author was brushed off and eventually left the group. So it’s not as if Breslin didn’t have advice offered, which she chose not to take. When I went back to read the author’s note (again), I was struck by how much of the real story she knew. She just ignored it because she wanted to write her story her way. It’s the epitome of appropriating other people’s stories and lives for selfish reasons.
I’ve described myself as an outsider (because I’m neither Jewish nor Christian nor European), but if you grow up in continental Europe, or you know Jewish people, you’re almost certainly affected directly or indirectly. Even I, as a child in India, happened to have an “Auntie” whose family escaped from Berlin in the late 1930s. I knew what the Holocaust was generally before I knew the specifics. It was just part of my consciousness.
I don’t blame people for wanting to make sense of that time; fiction can be so powerful. But it takes a lot more sensitivity and a lot more writing chops than this book demonstrates.
I just realized that my connection to WWII and the Holocaust is a lot closer than I consciously thought. As one of several poor Mexican children studying at a Marist school, my stepfather had to walk across France to Spain, to escape the Nazi occupation. I grew up listening to his stories of that traumatic period of his life.
I think a lot more people are touched by this than most of us realize. I didn’t think of myself as someone affected apart from my Auntie, but I have had several colleagues (who have also been friends) whose parents or grandparents were Holocaust survivors. And of course I have had students with relatives who made it and with relatives who didn’t.
A friend and I were emailing a couple of days ago and she mentioned that her father was a child in Europe under a fascist regime. And another friend is a Russian Jewish immigrant whose family suffered both in WW2 from the Nazis and then later under Soviet rule.
And let’s not even get started on all the displaced persons who were forcibly resettled after WW2 in addition to the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust you talked about above.
Exactly–however, many, if not most, of us (those of us who are not Jewish) have the luxury of forgetting, or at least, letting go.
I can’t say I’m surprised, but I’m deeply disappointed, to put it mildly, that we need to tell supposedly educated and civilized people that a concentration camp Kommandant romance is a bad idea, and moreover that they won’t “believe” us, because they think this story is not just acceptable but actually nice and laudable. It’s like the author had a list for the most offensive and insensitive writing material possible and proceeded to write every single thing. If she had wanted to create controversy it would be one thing, but obviously she thinks it’s a perfectly normal romantic story. This normalization of so much wrong is what is truly beyond me.
My reaction is indeed largely personal and visceral. Relatives and countrypeople of mine suffered and were murdered during the German occupation, and people who lived in that era are still alive. The Nazi uniform to me means “torturer”, not “romantic hero”. I can’t begin to imagine what Jewish people must be feeling reading this travesty, and watching so many people defend and praise it. I am very sorry they have to suffer through it. And I feel betrayed as a human. It should go without saying that genocide is horrible and not romantic at all.
And that cover makes me sick with rage. What kind of person thinks children being led to Auschwitz is a romantic picture? The offensive treatment of the subject in this book notwithstanding, just seeing that picture kills any happy feelings instantly.
When I first responded to AztecLady yesterday, about the immediacy, I was thinking of things that bother me but feel somewhat distanced. But the more I think about it, the more I think she’s right. There are some events that even as they lose their immediacy, don’t lose their power. The partition of India and Pakistan is a bit like that for South Asians (or at least quite a few South Asians). And the effects of the war, especially after the establishment of the Iron Curtain, are so far-reaching.
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Thinking about the forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of people because of the Allies division of territories after V Day–the cultural shock they felt, the isolation, it spread down to their descendants. Even the children of immigrants who choose to move to a different country have these feelings, this difficulty fitting in–how much worse is it for people who are forced to do so, either by political whim, or by war?
There is a Mary Burchell Harlequin romance in her opera series (Warrender saga) that has a displaced person as a major character. I should really write a quick post on it, because it’s how you *should* talk about that era, and it shows that you can effectively address difficult topics like WW2 effects in a romance-novel format.
Oh, please, do!
Sunita, here is the l blog post you mention.
Oops that didn’t work. The blog post you mentioned (by the writer in the same critique group as Breslin) is here: http://www.saraharonson.com/blog/?p=929
Thanks, Janine! That’s it.
Oh, yes, please do Sunita. 🙂
I went to look up the book and I had the title wrong. It’s not Song Cycle, it’s Music of the Heart, which is back in St. Louis. I’ll write it up next week when I can look at the book. I mostly have the plot memorized, but I want to get the names and details right. I remember the first time I read the book, which was decades ago, I didn’t really know that much about Displaced Persons. I’ve learned a lot since. We suppress a lot of complex postwar history in our “conventional wisdom” understanding of it.
I was thinking a bit about distance and there is another kind – geographical. Here in Australia the Jewish population is not huge and I don’t believe I’ve knowingly met a Jewish person in my real life. Until I started using social media, I don’t think I’d ever (knowingly) spoken to a Jewish person. I’m sure there is anti-semiticism alive and active here (we are rich in every other kind of negativism I’m sad to say) but it is not a media focus.
In our schools, when we learn about WWII, it is more the Australian experience of war that is studied and we had more involvement with the Japanese. My husband’s grandfather was a prisoner on the Burma railway and. while he never ever spoke of his experiences after the war, he was never able to eat rice. I don’t *think* there is a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment in Australia (as a result of WWII) anyway but (definitely on a smaller scale as compared to the Holocaust) the actrocities and war crimes we learn about are more associated with the Pacific experience rather than the European one. And I think that means that many Australians (myself included) are sadly lacking in any actual learning about the Holocaust apart from Schindler’s List, the ‘Holocaust’ miniseries way back in the 1980s and a generally broad overview. Even to say 6 million Jews killed – well the scope of it is just so large it kind of becomes so amorphous that it is hard to fathom.
One of the things the discussion of FSaT has brought about is a lot more people (again, myself included) learning (a little bit) about the Holocaust in ways which make the reality hit home.
I’m rambling I’m afraid – I’m not really sure what point I was making (if any)!
Thanks for making those points, Kaetrin, they are really important. If I hadn’t known someone who escaped Nazi Germany so well, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much background knowledge until I got to college (I learned about the Holocaust in US school, of course, but not a lot of detail and I didn’t know many personal stories until college).
On the other hand, Indians were much more aware of the Pacific Theater war and the role of the Japanese, since Indians were fighting with the British against their expansion through Asia into Burma. It was also odd for us because the independent movement was in full force during WW2, and activists were considered traitors for fighting for independence while the war was on. So it’s a really different perspective. And since we emigrated to California when we came to the US, I knew plenty of Japanese-Americans who were here in WW2. My best friend’s mother was in an internment camp (she rarely talked about it, even my friend didn’t know that much as we were growing up).
I too really appreciate your comment, Kaetrin. I’m relatively ignorant of some cultures too. Our upbringings don’t always prepare us well for cross-cultural encounters.
FWIW I did a bit of reading about the Holocaust and we had a family discussion of it last night over dinner. My 12 yo son didn’t know anything about it before then. It obviously wasn’t a massively detailed discussion but I think I conveyed to him the scope of it in an accessible way and also that it is important that we never forget humanity if capable of such atrocity.
I think he’s too young to see a movie like Schindler’s LIst or look at pictures on the internet – he’s a very sensitive soul – we went to the National War Memorial in Canberra in March this year. It’s a brilliant place, free entry (or gold coin donation) and it has so much detail and the displays are wonderful. They’re not overplayed but so very moving. We went only to the WWI section and after an hour my son was in tears and had to step out – so we left shortly after. Seeing the scope of the losses at Gallipoli, seeing the letters from soldiers freezing in the trenches, the dioramas that showed the conditions our troops were in – he was overwhelmed by the horror and sadness. The tomb of the unknown soldier wrecked him again. I know that he’d have nightmares about the visuals of the Holocaust so I think it’s too soon for him to see them. I think it’s important he starts to learn but in a way that is age-appropriate for him. (Of course I am well aware that many people, including yourself Janine, did not have that luxury.)
I understand, Kaetrin. This is one of these things that’s never going to not be painful to learn about but if you can postpone it for a time when he’ll be able to handle it a little better, that may be for the best.
And yeah it was traumatizing to learn the way I did (some of the details I was told about at age nine or ten would traumatize adults) but I was and remain aware that other children had to live through these horrors — and die because of them. So I see my own situation as a luxury, too.
I have written and deleted comments (here and elsewhere) on this several times because I am finding it so difficult to express my anger and disappointment regarding this book.
First, I want to say thank you to you and Janine (and others in your group) for providing a thorough discussion of it, as it is one that I will not read, ever.
I have to say that although I am angry and disappointed in the author and the publisher of this book, I am perhaps cynical enough about the Christian publishing industry that it doesn’t surprise me that they would publish and promote something so egregious as this book. Unfortunately, there is a market among right-wing fundamentalist Christians for books like this and money to be made from them – and so these books will continue to flourish. The fact that these people seem to hold a lot of political power is also very frightening. The recent statement from the publisher is nauseating in its sanctimoniousness. He also trots out the RITA nominations (particularly the best first book nomination) and the RT starred review as proof that this book isn’t bad or offensive since “mainstream” people liked it
Hopefully groups such as RWA will take a look at their policies and judging process for the RITA in light of what happened to allow this book to become a finalist for the romance genre’s most prestigious award.
I can only hope that discussions such as this will bring about some positive change somewhere.
I feel badly that every detail I provide (such as the ones in answer to your question on the DA post’s comment thread) are liable to make readers feel even worse. But I do believe that it’s better to know than not know.
I have erased and deleted a bunch of sentences, because I honestly do not have words for the way this book is being defended. I understand the idea of redemption, and I understand that people can find the redemption of a person who has committed terrible acts to be somehow more spiritually uplifting, more a sign of the power of faith. But this book fails on its own terms. The more I reread it and dig for specific pieces of information, the more convinced I am.
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It’s been a week or so since all this was blowing up – but I wanted to share a slightly different experience. I read this blog post when it went up, but not the comments.
I’m Australian. I grew up in Canberra (on the eastern side of Australia). I went to an alternative school from age 8 to 10. I basically moved into the library there, and read everything in it. For some reason I got fascinated by WWII and read everything there was about it, including all about the Jews and concentration camps. So it all sunk into my psyche pretty early. (Maybe it was CS Lewis’ references to one of his schools as “Belsen” which got me looking into it?) I also grew up around a jewish family.
One of my closest friends is originally from Hungary. He and his parents and sister were the last and only of his family to get out of Hunary . He still remembers being on the train (he was about 5) and couldn’t understand why his parents were freaking out while still making them all stay calm. As an adult he went back to Hungary, to see the family house, and discovered it was taken over by the gestapo and used to house and torture people. He also had problems because they ended up fleeing to India and as a little kid he only spoke German, and his parents were trying to get him to speak English, but the next language he learned was ?Punjabi because that’s what the servants spoke. The Punjabi people were also incredibly kind to his family in a time fo great need. (His father was interned as a possible Nazi sympathizer (!) and the locals took in his family and fed them) So somehow, I grew up with a knowledge of the European theatre of WWII – I know more about it than I do about the Pacific theatre.
I also grew up learning German, (and then French as an adult) so I developed a connection to their culture and language, so I have internalised a lot of how they feel about WWII, Naziism and concentration camps.
When I read the SmartBitches review, the whole thing really turned me inside out. It was a visceral Loud reaction, which would not go away, and the “defense” published by Bethany House had the same effect. It really feels like an erasure of a whole reality. I am left with the feeling that people like that should never have any power over other people, ever.
As for the Australians and the Japanese, it’s a generational thing. My mother’s father was in New Guinea fighting the Japanese in WWII. He came back very mentally damaged. To this day, my mother will not buy anything, or engage with anything Japanese. My sister, however, learned Japanese for pleasure, and loved studying Japanese history and culture. I studied Japanese history for a term as part of the international baccalaureate (a year of “decolonisation and the third world”), in the context of reading into European history for fun since I was 8, ongoing up to the present day.
Thanks so much for commenting, DL. It’s important to have a wide range of stories about WW2 and how it affected individuals and communities, because it was as close to a total world war as hopefully we will ever get. There are very few parts of the world in which people were not affected. Today, when younger people are two generations removed from those who were alive then, we have an even greater tendency to reify the experience into one or two narratives, and even those narratives lose a lot of critical information. For example, unless you read work set in the early and middle years of the war, it’s hard to get a sense of how real the prospect of an Allied loss was, both in Europe and in Asia.
Oh yeah, the UK would have been done and dusted if Hitler had invaded England instead of Russia.
I envy you your Mary Burchell collection. I have about 20 of her books. If only they could be republished! Thanks for the link to Granta.
I started my Burchell collection a long time ago, when there were private libraries that would sell their books occasionally, and lots of UBS here in the US which had Burchells. But the further we get from when they were published, the harder it is to find them. My collection isn’t quite complete (she wrote a LOT of books), but I treasure it.
I’ve often wondered who has the rights to her work, but I’m assuming that Harlequin would republish them if they could, so it must not be straightforward.
I just did a little look on google, and got a hit from Scribd about a book with rights “held by Mary Burchell’s Estate”. I don’t have scribd, and I don’t want to encourage them, so I didn’t sign up to have a look. I don’t know why the estate wouldn’t authorise publication of her work. Other people are a mystery.
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Oh, I just wanted to add – Mary Burchell – real name Ida Cook and her sister helped get Jews and their money out of Germany. They got an award for it from Israel, and a mention in one of their museums.
Yes! Harlequin/M&B reissued her autobiography (We Followed Our Stars) as an ebook a few years ago, and it’s wonderful. There is also a very interesting article in Granta about the Cook sisters, which I highly recommend.
And that reminds me, I need to get The Brave in Heart out of my Burchell Box and write a post about it, as I promised upthread.
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