This is what an exclusionary society looks like.

8 Aug

(This post has been edited to add more links

for further reading as I become aware of them;

there is a second edit to address my inaccurate reporting

of the ending of a book I have not read)

This rant, which has been percolating in my brain and heart since the morning after the Ritas were handed down,¹ is brought to you by the inclusion of the book For Such a Time, by Kate Breslin, into the list of finalists for RWA’s Rita Awards.

Why would that be a problem? you may ask. Well, a couple of reasons, which have been thoroughly discussed in several places, but let us start with a quick summary, shall we?

The novel, set during WWII, is about a blue-eyed, blonde Jewish young woman–described as Jewess in the actual blurb, I kid you not–who is ‘rescued’ from Dachau’s concentration camp by the SS officer in charge of Theresienstadt concentration camp, and how they fall in love. The book ends with the Jewish protagonist’s faith being healed by the Bible (New Testament included), and with the SS officer having been redeemed by the power of (Christian) love.

Chew on that for a second, if you would.

Having the Jewish heroine’s redemption, or the healing of her religious faith, hanging on a Christian symbol is pretty damned offensive, but the reality is that there are plenty of hard core religious fundamentalists out there, who could not conceive of a non-Christian heroine in one of their romances, so, offensive or not, that part of the story is not a huge surprise for me. It’s appalling, but really, it’s not surprising (and how fucking sad is that?)

Having the hero be the Nazi officer in charge of one of the most infamous concentration camps run by the SS? That is so far beyond offensive, my mind boggles at anyone, anywhere, thinking that that, could or would pass muster once the book was released out into the wild, as it were.

Turns out, considering how much positive noise has been made about this book, that they (author, editor, publisher) were far more accurate in their gauge of their customer base.

As far as the awards, and being now a bit better informed on the process of getting books into the Ritas and the Golden Hearts (I was fuzzy on the details, though I vaguely remembered something about the authors paying to enter²), the real problem is that once this book was in the running (again, however it got there), enough of the people who actually read it all the way thought, “gee, the ‘hero’ killed–or ordered the killing–of thousands of people, but hey, he really loves his newly-converted, blonde, blue eyed heroine, so it definitely is a romance novel as defined by RWA.”

Further edit: Willaful has made the observation that being inaccurate about how the book actually ends, only undermines the important discussions worth having about it. Whether or not the female protagonist’s conversion to Christianity is implied, the reality is that she does not convert on the page. I apologize for further spreading the inaccuracy.

The problem is that not one of the judges who got the book in the first round thought, “what the fuck? this asshole actively participated in genocide, is directly responsible for the death of tens of thousands of people, redeeming power of love/religion my ass, this book cannot make it into the finalists,” and raised a ruckus of some sort–or if any of the judges did, said ruckus was kept quiet.

Because however good the writing may or may not be, and this I’ll never know, because there’s no way in hell I’ll read it; however accurate the research, letting this book make it into a list of finalists for an award as prestigious as the Rita basically told everyone who is not an intolerant Christian that genocide can be forgiven, as long as the victims are not, you know, Christian.³

(Tolerant Christians of any and all denominations are as appalled by the whole thing as Jews and non-Christians–I am but one of them.)

The bigger problem, which can be seen at a glance by checking all the praise and five star reviews this novel got, as a Christian inspirational romance, is just how widespread the basic belief that this sort of bullshit storyline is okay, is–and how strong the culture of silence, for those who think this is in fact wrong, is.

I am sure, as sure as I’m breathing, that there are many readers who consider themselves devout Christians who do not understand what the big deal is.

That is a tragedy it and of itself, considering that Jesus’s message was to love your fellow man, not to seek reasons to dehumanize human beings who don’t worship as you do.

The lasting tragedy is that way too many of those who see all that is problematic about the novel, are choosing to remain silent. Too many have already decided that this is not something important enough to speak about. Or that hey, it’s a niche genre, who cares what those people say or believe in?

Or that denouncing something offensive, and asking RWA, a private entity mind, to exercise some selectivity in what material is considered appropriate to end as a finalist for one of its most prestigious annual awards, is censorship. (For the love of fuck, shouldn’t writers know better?)

We need to speak out. We need to start these conversations. Because no one can change what they don’t see; because when we don’t see things, we cannot come to the realization that they are wrong, or harmful.

My voice is not loud, and my corner of the internet is small, but I will not be silent.

~ * ~

A sampling of further reading:

Here’s a review  of the book, written for SmartBitches by a reader–this last paragraph/note is critical to understand some of the religious issues:

Did I find it troubling that, particularly in a novel about the Holocaust, the specter of conversion to Christianity was so central in ‘saving’ the Jewish heroine? Uh. Yes.

Here’s Sarah Wendell’s open letter to RWA, regarding the book’s inclusion in the Ritas.

Here is Rose Lerner’s post dissecting some of the many positive (when not glowing) reviews for this book at GoodReads.

Here is a profound post by Katherine Locke on many of the issues with the novel and the novel’s reception by a wider audience, and how they intersect with many other current societal ills.

Here is SuperLibrarian Wendy’s post on the discussion of power imbalance as it relates to the issues with the book vis a vis romance novels.

A number of conversations related to the many issues highlighted by this book’s publication as a romance novel, as well as the story itself, the religious, race, societal and historical connotations, are going on in twitter–Courtney Milan retweeted a number of things people have said that are worth reading. Start with this tweet.

Edited to add: here’s RWA’s statement on the controversy.

Sunita has written a post giving historical context to the publication of this particular type of controversial romance.

Ros Clarke shares her reaction to, and thoughts about, the novel after reading some 13% of it, from a devout Christian’s perspective.

Via SLWendy, this post from Kelly at InstaLove. Kelly reads a lot of inspirational romance, including many of Bethany House’s offerings, and, up to now, a participant in that publisher’s blogger review program.

Author KK Hendin impassionate post, Why Am I Angry?–which made me examine my own responses to the setting of the book.

A tangential, but very important conversation to have: author Jami Gold on Subjectivity and Reader Shaming.

Sunita has another post up, summarizing her and Janine’s joint review at Dear Author, as well as providing links to other posts and discussions.

~ * ~

¹ I do not pay any attention to the nomination lists when they come out, so I was unaware of this novel’s existence until then.

² Carolyn Jewel explains the mechanics of getting a book into consideration for the awards in this comment at SLWendy’s blog. Also, author Alexis Hall recounts his experience as a judge for these awards a few years ago. I agree wholeheartedly with his ending paragraph, by the way.

³ Or white, because you know, if you have Christians being killed by the millions somewhere in a third world country, well, it’s not quite the same, really. (But that’s yet another rant, deserving of its own space and linkage, sorry about the aside.)

10 Responses to “This is what an exclusionary society looks like.”

  1. SuperWendy 08/08/2015 at 6:09 PM #

    Hardest damn blog post I’ve written in a while. My fear is that I’m justifying the book and the fact it finaled – when in reality I just want all of us to look at ourselves. Yes, this book sounds deplorable to me, but I can also recognize that the genre as a whole has historically flitted around the edges (and sometimes jumped right into the deep end) when we’re talking problematic themes/elements. “Half-breed heroes.” Latin heroes and sheikhs in Harlequin Presents. Billionaire heroes “buying” heroines (for “reasons”). Motorcycle gangs. Soul mates (people disagree with me on this one – but no free will = not romantic to me). Historical rake hero “winning” the heroine in a poker game, or the heroine being handed off to the hero to settle her brother’s/father’s/uncle’s/pet goldfish’s gambling debt. And on and on we could go.

    Granted a Nazi hero and Jewish heroine in a book that handles the cultural and religious aspects of the story in not-good ways is an extreme example. And it’s the extreme examples that make for easy finger pointing. Does a milder form of similar themes make the milder form “more right?” That’s what I want readers to start asking themselves and frankly I don’t think many of them will.

    • azteclady 08/08/2015 at 6:31 PM #

      Many readers will never look inward, but having these conversations is important. These are the conversations that fuel change–slow as it may be.

      We have all (meaning, readers who have been online a few years) read those impassioned, and horribly uncritical, defenses of the romance genre, and we have all seen anyone daring to point to its problematic aspects being called “mean girls” at the very least, being threatened with doxxing and worse sometimes.

      You are pointing to one of these very problematic issues, and being brave to do so when so many of us are focused on the other, easier to spot, problematic aspects of both the book and its reception by the wider romance reading audience.

      On the dark romance thing: I have mentioned before that my first romance was E.M. Hull’s The Sheik–talk about dark romance, with a healthy side of Stockholm Syndrome. For years after, my romance reading was littered with books with asshole heroes (Whitney, My Love, anyone?).

      For far too long my criteria for a successful grovel would be that, by the book’s end, I would be convinced that the hero would treat the heroine right, from that point on.

      It’s only until recently that I realized that my tastes have steadily changed, that I want the hero to be a decent human being well before the heroine falls in love with him.

  2. Lori 09/08/2015 at 3:02 PM #

    I didn’t know about this until now and have read the RWA’s response (which I think is appropriate) but I’m sick to my stomach. As long as no Christians are killed then it’s an inspirational romance?

    I just can’t…

    • azteclady 09/08/2015 at 4:01 PM #

      I am not sure I agree that RWA’s statement truly addresses the issues–like Alexis Hall pointed out in his blog, you really can’t have it both ways. If the procedure for judging is so problematic that this book made it to the finalists, then the procedure must be changed. You can’t repeat how prestigious the Ritas are, and then say, “well, but the system is flawed, and we are not responsible for such skewed results.”

  3. Lori 09/08/2015 at 3:53 PM #

    You know, the more I think about this the crazier I feel inside.

    So with their HEA, should a reader assume they escaped to Argentina? Or was he a part of the Nuremberg Trials? How does it end? Because even if the author gave him a last redemptive action, it wouldn’t excuse the tens of thousands of lives he took.

    I read a review of the book where the reader loved the hero because he ‘collected’ disabled people to make up his household which showed his heart of gold. But all the black haired, big nosed Jews (of which my family is soooo much) were sent off to die but that was okay.

    Anti-semitism is alive and well and apparently has a home in romance. I feel sick.

    • azteclady 09/08/2015 at 4:04 PM #

      I honestly can’t tell you much more about the actual content of the novel, than what I’ve gleaned from Rachel’s review, over at SBTB, and from Willaful’s comments about how the ending has morphed from “heroine’s faith is healed through Bible” to “heroine converted to Christianism.”

      I can tell you that anti-antisemitism is definitely alive and well in the US at large, and it’s defended on the premise (absurd to the nth degree), that Christianity is being persecuted by the influx of other religions.

      Romance is but a snapshot of society, with all its prejudices.


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