I just found out about something that has me so shocked that, for a few hours, I couldn’t quite form words about it. Right now I feel like all I can do is quote what others have said better than I could.
First, here’s the situation, in a quote from Laura Antoniou on her Facebook page:
A romance novel where the hero is a concentration camp commander, redeemed and forgiven for his role in torture & genocide. Nominated for the most prestigious genre award in the field. Where he and his “blond haired and blue eyed Jewess” girlfriend convert to Christianity and…I can’t even.
Yes. You read that right. A book that does a lift from the Book of Esther (supposedly) to pair a she-doesn’t-look-Jewish Jewess with a high-placed Nazi, during the Holocaust, who somehow redeems him, and then they both convert to Christianity at the end of the story. Happy, happy, joy, joy.
You know… I never thought there would be a book that would make EL James look like a competent writer, but this book’s choice of topic, choice of setting, choice of story… Yeah. 50 Shades beats this dreck by a country mile and a half. Even with EL James’ bad writing, her story was better chosen than this, because it didn’t appropriate another people’s culture and tragedy.
Sarah Wendell wrote a scathing letter to both the RWA and Bethany Press, the book’s publisher. Rose Lerner deconstructs some awful 5-star reviews of the abomination. Katherine Locke rips into it and tears it a new one. You should read all of their reviews, but here’s Katherine’s money quote:
Part of this is evangelical Christianity’s relationship with Jewish people (not with Judaism, let’s be clear) and Israel. Let’s be clear: we are people. We are not anyone’s tickets into heaven. We are not your Chosen people.
But I think the commentary that has me nearly in tears is this one, from Jennie at Biblio File:
Even today, I deal with too many people that think the way for a Jew to find happiness is a renunciation of faith in order to turn to Jesus. They come to my door and interrupt me at home. They come into my work. They leave literature on my car.
And they scare me, because that version of Happily-Ever-After means a world where everyone has converted to Christianity. That version of Happily-Ever-After means a world with no more Jews. It’s not physically violent, but it’s still terrifying. It’s not inspirational.
Other commenters on other posts and discussion I’ve read about this have said that the RWA membership is (unfortunately) largely white, Christian, conservative, and female. They’re also apparently tone-deaf (which is ironic when you’re talking about writers, don’t you think?) and have written a response to the outcry about this atrocity that just confirms their tone-deafness. It’s not the first time the RWA has crossed my Facebook page with negative reviews – apparently at their most recent convention, they did a lot of stupid, bigoted things. For example, a writer of my acquaintance, Rose Fox, whose gender is “they,” was repeatedly misgendered even after they explained to people that their gender is “they.” (That may be a microaggression, but it’s awfully aggressive when you’re on the receiving end!) Generally speaking, RWA has a diversity problem.
Okay, but it’s just a romance novel, right? Why do I have my knickers in such a twist about this particular incident of anti-Semitism?
Simple. My husband is a published romance writer. He was outraged tonight while reading to me and my best friend about this book and what’s happened (even though, thank God, it didn’t win the award it was nominated for).
But it also shocked him because it doesn’t fit his experience. His local group of RWA writers, whom he meets with once a month or so, is also really diverse. There are gay people, Asians, African-Americans, Latinas, old and young men, straight men, straight women – and they are the hope for the future of the RWA. They are the future of the RWA. This approval of an anti-Semitic cultural appropriation with a convenient Christian conversion story is just the last gasps of an RWA that is clinging to a time when that kind of thing was okay. (Makes you think of the Tea Party, doesn’t it?) I know that with this public outcry, things will have to change.
But I have to admit that right now, I am dismayed and disillusioned. This anti-Semitism may not be the anti-Semitism of the SS, the Gestapo and the Aryan Nation, but it is the anti-Semitism of the people who stand by and do nothing. It is the anti-Semitism of the people who say “I’m not racist, but you know that Jews are [fill in your favorite stereotype here]”. It is the anti-Semitism of the evangelicals that want Jews in Israel not to be Jewish there, but to be their ticket to the return of a Jewish rabbi who they’ve made out to be the son of God by being forcibly converted or killed.
No, I have zero interest in reading this book. Reading the reviews was bad enough.
This has not made me decide against conversion – or what I’m beginning to think of as confirmation, because in my heart I became Jewish a long time ago. What it has done is strengthen my resolve.
She’asani Israel. I am a Jew.
And I may be worried, but I refuse to be afraid. I do and will wear my kippah and Mogen David every day, and I’m not going to hide for someone else’s prejudice.