Posts Tagged ‘Chris Cleave’

LET THE BOOK BURNING BEGIN

Political correctness recently broke out in Brisbane, Australia. Officials at a writers festival were so upset with novelist and keynote Lionel Shriver (The Mandibles), “they censored her on the festival website and publicly disavowed her remarks,” according to the New York Times. What horrific things did she say?

“Ms. Shriver criticized as runaway political correctness efforts to ban references to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation from Halloween celebrations, or to prevent artists from drawing on ethnic sources for their work.” (“Lionel Shriver’s Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival,” Rod Nordlund, 9-12-16). Re artists, some people believe that white authors should not create non-white characters. Ms. Shriver disagrees. “She deplored critics of authors like Chris Cleave, an Englishman, for presuming to write from the point of view of a Nigerian girl in his best-selling book ‘Little Bee.’”

Right on, Lionel! Like Incendiary, Cleave’s first novel, Little Bee is fabulous. Little Bee, the Nigerian girl who Cleave created, exhibits biting humor and remarkable courage. She offers a different perspective on England—one well worth examining. Oh, and Cleave creates sympathetic white Britons, as well—women as well as men.

Political correctness seems to demand that authors, playwrights and screenwriters create segregated worlds. Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) and William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner) would be long forgotten. But all writers would pay the price. The Good Lord Bird by African-American James McBride would have its wings clipped since the white abolitionist John Brown plays a prominent role. Sherman Alexi, the Native American writer, would have to eliminate whites though they’re integral to his novels and stories.

Amy Tan? Imprisoned in Chinatown and the Middle Kingdom. Englishman Tom Rob Smith’s magnificent Child 44 set in Russia? Nyet! The late Bernard Malamud’s stories set in Italy with a Jewish protagonist and all those Italians? Bury the Italians. I’m sure I can find enough people to say Kaddish.

The foolishness never ends. Jewish Steven Spielberg directed the film version of The Color Purple with a screenplay by the Dutch-born Menno Meyjes. Scandalous! The Broadway smash Hamilton features minority actors playing America’s white founding fathers and mothers—and rapping. Man (and woman) the barricades! Then there’s earthling George Lucas creating all those aliens in Star Wars. Talk about intergalactic cultural insensitivity!

Let’s get real. Writers tell stories by drawing on their experiences with people of all ethnicities. They observe. They do research. And they imagine. Good writers create characters of any ethnicity who reveal human nature at its best and worst.

I don’t restrict my characters to Jews. Specifically, Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. Specifically, men. Specifically, old men. In Flight of the Spumonis, the street kid Jimmy Q represents four different ethnicities, one of them Jewish. Do I get a pass? The private eye Moonbeam Cherney is a woman but Jewish. Cut me some slack? In my newest novel, the powerful executive director of a major museum, the holder of law and MBA degrees, is Black. Have I crossed a forbidden boundary?

Sure, we could purge our libraries, bookstores, Amazon and homes of all books guilty of cultural appropriation. But then we’d appropriate the cultures of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and much of the Middle East. And our shelves would be bare.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And read a good book—whoever the author is and whatever ethnicity the characters. It’s a human thing.

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THANKSGIVING PLUS ONE

Yesterday, Carolyn, Seth and I (Yosi is in Virginia) celebrated Thanksgiving at Aaron and Jeremy’s house. Food? The usual plenty. Although forgive me for using the word usual. I’m grateful for my good fortune, which happens to include lots of “little” things. Here are three.

Thank you cable TV and content providers like Netflix and Amazon for entertaining, challenging shows. We recently concluded Narcos (Netflix) about the Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar—violent but riveting with a great performance by the Brazilian actor Wagner Moura. We’re about to see Show Me a Hero (HBO) and The Man in the High Castle (Amazon). Showtime’s Homeland and The Affair (Dominic West lives out all my author fantasies) are winding down, but House of Cards (Netflix), Game of Thrones (HBO), Grace and Frankie (Netflix) and Silicon Valley (HBO) wait in the wings.

Thank you books and their authors. I feel unsettled when I’m not into a book even though I’m now reading the December Atlantic magazine with the next Foreign Affairs coming soon. I just finished Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter. It took me 30 years to get to it, although I read the second novel in his Frank Bascombe trilogy, Independence Day, some time ago. I just started Andy Weir’s The Martian—science as fiction. After that it’s non-fiction—Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. I’m not morbid. Just, well, mortal. Then I’ll check my nightstand for more titles. (Tip: Read Chris Cleave’s novel Incendiary, written five years after 9/11, for a British take on Islamist terrorism’s effect on Western society.)

Finally, thank you Shabbat. The late Dean Martin had a great line about people who don’t drink: “You wake up in the morning and that’s as good as you’re gonna feel all day.” I don’t equate Shabbat to alcohol but to something far more soul enriching. The Sabbath, which begins Friday at sundown and ends at sundown on Saturday, restores me weekly.

Sure, I live a low-key life—TV, movies (we have tickets to the new Star Wars), theater and books. That’s in addition to writing fiction and this blog. Plus reading Torah each morning. And getting together with friends. But we all face challenges, disappointments and the occasional inner torment. Shabbat suspends all that. It’s the day, never far off, on which every person can “get off the wheel”—turn aside from the ordinary and celebrate the extraordinary: creation (i.e. the universe) and our connection to that which is greater than ourselves. I worship at my synagogue on Friday night. After, Carolyn and I have a special dinner at home. And watch TV! I go to Torah Study on Saturday morning then out to coffee with friends. In the afternoon, I free myself from humdrum obligations in favor of a walk, reading and an occasional nap.

Admittedly, my pleasures—add ice cream, daily walks and any opportunity to laugh—are simple. Still, I try to be thankful each day—and on Shabbat particularly—for those things that truly nourish us yet often go overlooked. That’s why today I adhere to a mantra echoing the Rabbi’s blessing in Fiddler on the Roof: May God bless and keep Black Friday… far away from me.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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