Last week Flavorwire flagged the story of the Nazi-inmate “inspirational” (aka Christian) romance novel that was causing consternation and protest from Jewish and other minority members of the romance novel community. The novel, Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time, depicts a romance between a Jewish woman and a Nazi officer in a concentration camp, followed by her assumed conversion to Christianity.
Those who were upset objected to the Romance Writers of America allowing the book to be honored with a couple of award nominations, with nary a peep about its content from the organization. Since then, a number of critics have decided to read the book, and very few have found anything to defend in its pages. Beyond the logically consensual parameters of the romance, the book apparently treats Jews like “proto-Christians” who believe in a Christian-style heaven with trumpets and angels (“They don’t eat pork or read the New Testament, but other than that, they’re basically Christians.”) There’s also been a good deal of anger over the novel’s ending, which changes the Holocaust narrative:
She chose to change the course of history by replacing actual events and people with ones that suited her narrative purpose, thereby erasing the true tragedy that was Theresienstadt and, by extension, the entire Holocaust. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a form of Holocaust denial. No, it doesn’t deny the whole thing, but it denies a substantial portion of it.
While many news outlets have now reported on the conflagration and the original complaints about the book continue to pile up —including a growing number of angry Amazon reviews — the RWA and the novel’s publisher have both been sticking to their guns, essentially, issuing classic non-apologies that take zero concrete steps to make the situation better. “Bethany House Publishers is saddened by the offense some have taken,” begins the publisher’s statement. If by “some,” they mean every single Jewish person who has heard of this book, then sure.
They received a surprising backup from noted supernatural (and BDSM, and Christian) writer Anne Rice, who on Facebook expressed her worries about “Internet lynch mobs” and “political correctness” threatening “freedom of speech” and expression. Rice writes in favor of novelists taking risks, tackling cultures they don’t know, and being free to imagine. This is all very well, but being encouraged to experiment and create across boundaries doesn’t mean having no responsibility to the group you’re depicting, nor does it mean that people from that group can’t be mad at their depiction.
It’s not censorship to say that Gone With the Wind is racist or Updike’s books are misogynist, or to leave reviews to that effect. Furthermore, if the publisher releases a “sorry you were offended”-style apology and the RWA refuses to do anything either, then there’s no other way to put an asterisk next to this book warning potential readers of its disturbing content, besides leaving online reviews.
The criticisms I’ve noticed aren’t generally saying anything about all Christian writers being “banned” from imagining Jewish characters. Instead, they’ve suggested that in the future, when a house like Bethany publishes a book about an unfamiliar culture or religion, they get a few readers from that background to give the book a look and determine whether it’s accurate or offensive. That’s just good artistic practice, anyway. In fact, the most scathing piece I found this week was from a very devout Christian believer, and that’s what she suggested:
I’m going to return my electronic copy of this book and donate the price of the book to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I am writing to ask you, as my brothers and sisters in Christ, to offer a sincere apology for the hurt you have caused–you don’t have to look that far behind all the internet anger to see the hurt… You might even stop selling it and pulp the remaining paper copies. And maybe in the future if you publish books with Jewish characters, have a Jewish person read them and make sure they accurately reflect the Jewish experience.
As I noted last week, this is not an example of a small group crying anti-Semitism. Basically anyone who cares about Jewish history as well as many, many genre writers and readers from diverse backgrounds have explained why they think For Such a Time is an example of an entrenched white/Protestant/middle-class blindness in their genre.
As another writer, Evangeline Holland, said in her piece about the brouhaha: “Historical romance in particular needs to be decolonized.”