…You’ll probably want to go somewhere else.
Because this is where I begin thinking out loud about For Such a Time, Kate Breslin’s RITA-nominated romance novel, set in Theresienstadt and featuring a Nazi commandant hero and a Jewish heroine with a thing for the New Testament…
…though if you’re a mild-mannered Molly Weatherfield reader, or an old friend or family member checking in on what I’m up to — or pretty much anybody who up until now has been mercifully ignorant of this sordid episode in romance publishing… at this point you’re probably thinking WTF, a concentration camp romance, that’s just crazy talk…
…it’s my sad duty to tell you that this is indeed a post about a Nazi concentration camp “inspirational romance,” its last page bathed in smiles and a “soft breeze” that its heroine — who may or may not have converted to Christianity but who definitely has the holy spirit thing down — hears as “His [sic] whisper.”
After the couple of days I’ve spent reading this and other eyeball-melting excerpts from For Such a Time and its fans’ online reviews, I’m finding the whole business impossibly distressing and offensive. Or possibly worse. Stay tuned. This morning I bit the bullet and ordered a used copy (hopefully to minimize my contribution to the author’s numbers, though that’s probably naive since Amazon owns ABEBooks anyway).
Will I write about it after I get my copy? Frankly, I’m not sure I’m up to reading it all the way through, though I’m gonna try. Hell, I don’t even like to refer to the damn thing by name, preferring, like Kelly at Instalove Book Reviews, to “Voldemort it” by calling it That Book. But I’m writing this post because I think the episode provides a murky window on the fraught times we live in, and because I feel a responsibility to share the smartest and most thought-provoking stuff I’ve been able to find about this shameful affair from online discussions within the romance community1.
So you won’t find much original thinking what follows, but if you’re new to this issue, I hope you’ll benefit from the links I’ll be providing (most of which I got from Kelly, so if you prefer to just truck on over there instead of taking my particular guided tour of hell, feel free). And if you’ve got some links I’ve missed I’d like to hear about them, but meanwhile here’s what I found…
My thanks going first to Rose Lerner for posting excerpts on her Tumbler page from the many five-star Goodreads reviews That Book has received. Which is how I first heard not only about the book but its sizable, enthusiastic fan base. Read Rose’s summary of what they have to say if you have the stomach.
After which you’ll be relieved (and perhaps as grateful) as I am, to turn to the reasoned, brave, and passionate responses like Kelly’s second post, “Fuck it, I’m Going Full Snark” and Laura K. Curtis’s “Yes I Read That Book So You Don’t Have To.” Both these writers do the dirty work of detailed plot summary and extensive excerpting, while Joanne Renaud and Jackie Barbosa contribute damning textual evidence of what appears to be Breslin’s utter disinterest in writing convincing Jewish characters.
Dear Author‘s joint discussion between Sunita and Janine is invaluable: thanks in particular to Sunita for her painstaking research into the hideous actualities underlying the book’s cheesy melodramatic pseudo-history (as well as for a separate blog post about other Nazi hero romances). As always when you’re at Dear Author, don’t miss the comments, which cover a wide range of interesting opinion, most crucially in this case an introduction to a reading community I didn’t know much about. I’m particularly indebted to someone who posts as M, for drawing upon her upbringing in a radically fundamentalist Christian church, to parse the assumptions behind the reviews Rose collected.
And finally, as an antidote, you’ll be glad to read some pieces by members of the Christian romance reading and writing community who don’t draw inspiration from the spectacle of six million Jewish corpses deployed as extras in a feelgood inspirational romantic adventure thriller. Again, Kelly’s initial post at Instalove shows that it’s possible to respect someone else’s history without appropriating it, and wins my own personal Franz Kafka/Lenny Bruce award for laughing at the unspeakable. And Emily Hubbard’s open letter to Bethany House (the book’s publisher) is a brave, bracing, and in all ways admirable expression of religious faith that has nothing to do with self-regarding smugness (for which you might want to check out Bethany House’s generic response to this and other criticism).
A NOTE HERE…
1. [When I originally started this post, I thought I’d include stuff from sites not directly devoted to romance writing, but it’s long enough as it is, and so I’m saving what background information I learned for future posts on this topic and where it leads me]↩