Posts Tagged ‘romance’

*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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