*Warning: this post contains spoilers on a recent novel. Read with caution.*

I heard something very interesting yesterday that I, as a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust have to comment on. When you read that title and saw the words “Nazi Romance”, what popped through your mind? Probably nothing good if you haven’t heard yet, and probably a ton of controversy and maybe some simmering anger if you have heard yet. In case you’re among those who haven’t heard, let me explain:

The controversy centers around a Christian romance novel called For Such a Time by a woman named Kate Breslin that came out last year. The novel has received nods for awards and positive reviews in that time, including a few from the Romance Writers of America. However, a lot of people are taking offense at the subject matter: it’s a retelling of the Biblical story of the Book of Esther set in a Nazi concentration camp with a Jewish woman with Gentile looks and a Nazi commandant as the heroes. Long story short, the commandant thinks this blonde beauty can’t be Jewish and puts her to work in a supervisory role in the camp under a false name. Thus begins a strange, tension-filled romance that some have likened to sexual harassment coupled with Stockholm Syndrome (sounds a bit like my thesis Rose) that ends with the two heroes getting together despite all obstacles and, because this is a Christian romance novel, the heroine converts to Christianity (not like my thesis Rose at all).

Now I have not read the novel–I only found out about this yesterday, I’m not interested in reading a romance novel, let alone one trying to get me to look at Jesus in a new light, and even if I was by the time I finished it the Internet’s short attention span might have moved onto something else–but you can see why this sort of story might cause some upset feelings. The major criticism is that the novel co-opts one of the greatest tragedies in modern history, and the biggest tragedy in modern Jewish history, so as to advance a particular religious aim.

At the same time, some have come out in favor of the book. Anne Rice actually defended the novel, saying that writers should be able to experiment and that the almost extreme outcry rising on the Internet around this novel is akin to censorship and a lynch mob. The organization Romance Writers of America has said something very similar in response to For Such a Time getting two nods for major awards they hand out.

Now, I don’t like Internet confrontation. But like I said, I’m a writer, a Jew, and a scholar on the Holocaust, so I feel some need to weigh in on this subject. First off, I understand the point of view about experimentation vs. censorship. In several stories I’ve written over the years, including Rose, I’ve pushed boundaries of my own comfort zone and maybe the comfort zones of my readers in order to create a better story. Writers should be able to do just that, experiment and push boundaries in the name of creating a great story. To regulate what writers work on or threaten them if they write something someone finds offensive, which is made all too much easier by the anonymity of the Internet, does smell of censorship and makes me think of extremist vigilante justice using a new medium to intimidate people. Almost like a lynch mob, in fact.

Can you really make fiction–let alone romantic Christian fiction–out of a subject like this?

However, I do see why people are outraged over this book. Like I said, the Holocaust was a tragedy. Of the estimated 12 million victims of the Nazi genocide, around half were Jews. To take what was a horrific and defining moment for modern Jewry and use it as a backstory for a romance meant to draw readers close to Jesus is very insensitive to victims and survivors of the Holocaust who lost their lives because of their heritage, as well as those who carry that heritage today. The conversion to Christianity at the end is also very disturbing, because many Jews were forced to convert before, during, and after the war for survival and it sometimes caused trouble for them later in life. To portray it as an act of love…to say the least it seems unsettling.

Ultimately, I feel the best way to view For Such a Time by Kate Breslin is to view it as a teachable moment. While writers should be able to write and experiment as they wish, they should also be cognizant that writing about some subjects (like the Holocaust) requires more sensitivity and caution than others. When dealing with a subject such as this, it’s important not just to know your facts, but how people–particularly those affected directly by said subject–feel about it. That way when you write about it, you are writing it in a way that, while it may not please everyone, it will not cause the sort of outrage this novel has caused.

This was what I did with Reborn City when I wrote it. I’m as far away from the gangster lifestyle as possible, so I did my research to make sure I represented gangsters in a way that would do the lifestyle justice . So far, I haven’t had any complaints.

Thankfully Breslin has already issued an apology, saying she wrote it with the best of intentions and she’s very sorry for any offense or pain she caused to the Jewish people. And while others may not forgive her, I think I can. I think she’s learned form this experience. And when she puts out her next book, perhaps it’ll get the attention that every author wants their book to have, rather than the nasty kind her first received.

What’s your take on this subject? Is Ms. Breslin out of line or was she just trying to write a good story?

Should authors be more sensitive when experimenting with their stories? And is the uproar over this book overblown or justified?

Let’s discuss.

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Comments
  1. I have three comments:

    1- OMG! seriously? And no one along the way told her this was a bad idea?

    2 – still, as a defender of free speech I have to agree, she does have a right to write it – but then people also have a right to complain – that free speech goes both ways. but free speech doesn’t give people the right to threaten her (if they are – I admit, I have not researched this, but the lynch mob comment made me want to add that, LOL!) I believe firmly people have a right to write anything they want – even really horrible, offensive things, but they also have the right to deal with the backlash. Even if she really “didn’t think about it” This is why authors should have a group of people helping them “think about it” – and if she is traditionally pubbed she definitely should have (the cover looks that way but may not be – again I have not looked into it – but it is a very polished cover). However she had the good grace to apologize, so from a moral standpoint, there is no point in people rubbing it in. She’s accepted the backlash, she’s admitted her mistake. If she was combative or rude (as some authors are) I could see dragging it on, but since she’s not….

    3 – Ann Rice will defend/comment on anything that will get her media attention. This is why i have quit reading her books (sadly) because I can’t condone her blatant use of every religious controversy as an excuse to get new FB follows yadda yadda. (She lost me when she jumped on board the “All Christians need to apologize for the actions of a few” bandwagon a couple of years ago. Really? But, had she really felt that way, I could have let it go under the free speech. however, not a month later when the controversy rose again in the media – this time in the opposite light – she again exploited it, but this time on the other side.) I now look back at all of her various things she’s done and can’t help but view them through a cynical lens. Her “conversion” to Christianity and disowning her vampires (which I thought silly, but her choice) coincided perfectly with her book release about Jesus, and, when that was over and she had some vampire books to release, she then denounced Christianity as evil – again right before a book launch. She uses religion as a thing to gain her notoriety constantly and I just can’t stand that – I don’t care what religion someone is exploiting, I just think it’s wrong to take something that matters deeply to some people and try to use it just to get your name in the news.

    • No, apparently no one along the way pointed out the problems with this story, and she is traditionally published. And you’re right, people do have the right to say what they want on the Internet, but I draw the line at threats or incitement to violence. Internet harassment is a horrific epidemic, and I feel it needs to be combated somehow. You’re also right that now that she’s apologized, we should try to move on. I only bring it up here for discussion.

      As for Anne Rice, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. As far as I know, her Christian books came out after she was born-again, and she gave up organized Christianity–organized, not Christianity in general–because she disagreed with how some preachers use faith as a means to bully others, including women and the LGBT community (her son is gay).

      Maybe I’m a bit biased though. She’s been one of my biggest influences, written back to me when I’ve written to me (when I complained about a Jewish character in Angel Time converting to Christianity and becoming a nun to be near her priest father, she actually agreed with me and said she’d gotten some flack for that). Also she agreed to let me interview her this fall. Got to love her for that.

      • Lol. Yep. We will have to agree to disagree on that one. 😉

      • Oh, and I didn’t mean you should move on, but the trolls still carrying on about it and probably using it as an excuse to be horrible – I just realized I didn’t make that clear Lol!

      • I got your meaning, Joleene. Don’t worry about it.

      • Oh good. I thought so, then that late night paranoia set in… Lack of sleep and caffeine, lol! Because I thought you had a really well written, nicely balanced piece here 🙂

      • Thank you, Joleene. I really appreciate that.

      • Marion says:

        Hi Rami,

        As far as I can see, specifically on the Amazon reviews, the line you are concerned with has not been crossed. There is exactly one 1-star review that I’ve seen on the Amazon site suggesting that Amazon shouldn’t be be selling the book, and even critics of the book commented to say that that’s not what anyone is asking for.

        I don’t think the Amazon review page is the best place for a teachable moment, but at least some of those negative reviews involve an attempt to explain why it is offensive to people who clearly don’t see that. Rice goes far beyond even equating negative reviews with a “attack” campaign against the book. Her now deleted facebook page refers to the people leaving those reviews as an organized “internet lynch mob” intent on “censorship by bully.” She also manages to blame an author and book blogger for “inciting” the “lynch mob” “intentionally or unintentionally” by publishing a letter the blogger wrote to the RWA board about the nomination of For Such a Time for two awards. That this is the same blogger who previously published a post about Rice’s campaign again negative customer reviews and her demonization of those who write them complicates things.

        There are bigger issues involved here, and other agendas. I understand your admiration for Rice’s literary work. However, on the issue of negative critique of books, her track record of public pronouncements and campaigns has been more than controversial.

        Might I suggest you google, “Anne Rice reaction to criticism” to get an idea of her bias on this, and by all means read the negative reviews for yourself.

      • Marion,
        First, thank you for commenting.
        Second, while Amazon may have only one review going along this line, Goodreads has several that show some concern on this line. I’d recommend going to check it out.
        While I admit I am a bit biased when it comes to Anne Rice, you have to admit that sometimes the Internet does get a little ridiculous with its abhorrence to certain subjects (also, her Facebook page is still there. Why do you think it’s deleted?). I think Ms. Rice is just trying to make the Internet a nicer place, something we can all agree on.

  2. Marion says:

    She may have left the “some people say” thread up, but the thread she initially had which begins: “Want to see the new censorship in action” is gone. I’m certain of this as my link to it no longer works. I do understand there are some harsher, snarkier reviews up on Goodreads, but on her facebook thread she didn’t mention those, nor did she suggest her people of the page visit Goodreads. Instead she specifically went after the Amazon reviews, vilifying anyone who left one as “dishonest” “immoral” an part of the “internet lynch mob”. She sent her fans out to report and downvote those reviews. Many also left negative comments on the reviews siting Rice’s talking points. Amazon has removed many of them.

    While I will admit that the Internet does get ridiculous with abhorrence to certain subjects, it was Rice herself who was getting ridiculous in this case. If you want more detail on why I think so, please check out my blogs on this.

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