Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Speaking of quality & quantity

As the first half of the year ends, I count 38 books read thus far in 2010. Thank you New York City public transit workers for whisking me to and fro, freeing me to read as you deliver me to where I must go.

Some of the books were very good. Some not so much. Reading so many, though, does the sheer number turn into something else?

In my case, at this moment, it turns into a kind of mush. Like my mind. I'm tired, limping along as the work days dwindle to my summer vacation. This week and next week, and then I'm off for four weeks. (Hurray for seniority and a union contract!) So it may be inevitable that the books toward which I find myself turning right now are not uniformly Serious Material. Seems like I'm leavening my reading fare, interpolating at least an occasional lighter volume amid the more worthwhile and meaningful. Today, for example, I read an entire book, light as a breeze, inoffensive, pleasant, piquant yet far from insipid: Laura Rider's Masterpiece by the always reliable Jane Hamilton.

I've got a pile of books ready for vacation, a mix of the more and the less in terms of art and relevance. During my first week off I plan to tackle the summer horror blockbuster The Passage by Justin Cronin. This one's been touted all about as the literary vampire tale. I can only hope. It's possible I've been bamboozled once again, as with Vacation 2005 and my The Historian fiasco; that one was also a highly praised, supposedly literary, vampire novel that turned to be one long, unimaginative, poorly written anticommunist rant. Here's hoping I fare better with The Passage.

Yes, even a red reader sometimes just wants to be entertained.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Footnotes in Gaza

Earlier this month, I read Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco, soon after reading his earlier Palestine. Both are books of graphic journalism. Both are substantial contributions to the quest to reveal the truth about the crimes of the Zionist apartheid state of Israel. I sent a request for permission to reproduce a page or two here from Footnotes in Gaza to give a sense of how Sacco accomplishes what he accomplishes, but I've had no response so I'm not going to wait any longer to post a brief note. Sacco's work merits better, but it's a busy weekend what with Gay Day tomorrow and also I'm having some computer trouble, so a brief note will have to suffice.

Both Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza consist of first-person reportage based on Sacco's trips to the occupied land. Palestine is an on-the-ground view of the first Intifada. Footnotes is simultaneously an investigation into two hidden historic atrocities and, again, an on-the-ground view, this time of what life is like for the Palestinians of occupied Gaza. Together, the books add up to a damning indictment of Israel, in a broad sense. That is, they not only present an in-your-face eyewitness account of some of the crimes committed day in and day out in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Perhaps more important, simply by laying out these crimes--by literally showing them with his fine and horrifying images on page after page--Sacco makes the reader see how the crimes accrue, day by day, dead Palestinian by dead Palestinian, bulldozed home by bulldozed home. So that any reader other than the most diehard racist apologist for Israel must conclude that, as per the Marxist precept of quantity turning into quality, these horrors are not isolated incidents but rather they add up to the meat of the matter.

Massacre. Murder. Removal and relocation. Theft. Withholding of food, of access to education or medical treatment. This is Zionism. These are not aberrations. They are not even merely policy, although they are surely that. They are the essence of the Zionist project, the deeply reactionary, racist project of creating and maintaining a "Jewish state" on the occupied land of Palestine.

Footnotes in Gaza focuses on two large-scale massacres perpetrated by Israel against the civilian population of Gaza that took place in 1956 and now are virtually unknown to the rest of the world. In painstaking detail, Sacco tells both stories, and at the same time the story of how he investigated, how, interview by interview, visit by visit, he pieced together a reliable account of these two terrible days.

It's hard to take. Some of these scenes bear such a close resemblance to images from the Nazi holocaust--people lined up against a wall and shot, people forced to run through a gauntlet of taunting soldiers and beaten or shot, people herded into mass groups and forced to stay still in the heat of the sun, forced to piss on themselves, people forced to line up before soldiers sitting at tables with lists of names and separated into groups of who will live and who will die--that it was all I could do to not just slump down onto the floor crying oh my people what have you done? However, they are not my people, the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, and crying does no good for Palestine. What the Palestinians need is solidarity. Which is currently spreading by leaps and bounds, and would spread even faster, I think, if books like Footnotes got into more hands.

Before I close I want to mention one particular way Footnotes makes its point with most impact. That is via the faces and names of the Palestinians whose testimony Sacco reproduces. Day after day he sits with some elder, his or her face etched with the pain and sorrow of a long life of suffering, and listens, takes notes and sketches while the elder recounts his or her tale. On the page, each face comes alive. And, with the exception of a few who requested anonymity, itself a statement about life in Gaza, each face has a name. All these names. Mohammed Juma' El-Ghoul, El-Sayed Abdel Hamid Abu Taha, Ra'esa Salim Hassan Kaloob, Hassan Hammad Abu Sitta, and many more. Each leaps from the page as a full human being, a person of depth and dimension and emotion and intellect. That this should be noteworthy is a measure of how racist is the Zionist ideology which, on behalf of U.S. imperialism and Big Oil, has held consciousness nearly totally in its sway in this country and Israel.

But it is noteworthy. Sacco's presentation of these human beings and what they have endured at the hands of the U.S.-armed and U.S.-funded client state of Israel is a smack in the face to Zionist propaganda. Which was built on denying the existence, let alone the right to their homeland, let alone the basic humanity, of the Palestinian people.

Remember the words of two former Israeli prime ministers. These are chosen at random, for you can find the same from any of them. Golda Meir, June 15, 1969: "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. ... It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist." Menachem Begin, June 1982: The Palestinians "are beasts walking on two legs."

No, you vile thugs of the apartheid state, you're the beasts, and, as you well know, your monopoly on the narrative is crumbling. More and more are coming to know the truth. More and more are signing on to the movement to free Palestine. And more still will. I wish books like Sacco's could get into many hands across the lands. I think they'd help in this effort to open eyes and win allies for the people of Palestine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

TV, fatigue, war: yes, everything is political

I've been kind of pooped on account of this and that, not least the muggy heat, which I grew up with in muggy hot Detroit and used to love, or at least thrive in, but which I can no longer take. It saps me. I wilt. Summer used to be my season. No more. Oh how I long to be the girl I used to be ... but that's another song altogether. The song I've been singing this week is--oy the shame of it!--the TV song. Yes, that's right, my confession of the week is that I've been on a TV kick.

A week ago we signed on to that cheap Time Warner Cable offer they've been promoting the hell out of, because it is indeed cheap. For a year, anyway, after which we'll have to go cold turkey and switch back to some lesser, cheaper deal since TWC will jack up its charges. For now, though, we'll be paying at least $50 a month less than we had been for cable, phone and internet--and getting much more, including fancier phone features, much faster internet connection, and, heaven help us, about 120 additional TV channels plus a sharper digital screen plus DVR.

Those new channels. They're doing me in. A series on the origins and future of the universe, guided by Stephen Hawking! Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman! Surgery, childbirth, real ER drama (from all of which I have to constantly avert my eyes to avoid fainting)! Broadway musicals 24/7! That silly new sitcom with Betty White, the adorable Valerie Bertinelli et al crafted for precisely my age and sex demographic! Noah's Arc, which I watched for the first time last night and became immediately hooked on! Old movies galore! And that DVR! I'm spending nearly as much time roaming the guide and programming shows and movies to record as I am actually watching. Teresa's out of town, at the U.S. Social Forum in my hometown, which she tells me is, strangely enough, not hot and muggy at the moment, and, as often happens when she travels, despite all my resolutions to use the alone time to write and attend to overdue projects, I'm instead just sort of functioning, getting to work and back and that's about it, only rather than sinking into a chair reading in the evenings I've devolved to the couch and TV.

It will pass, I'm told. It's the novelty, I'm assured. Let's hope.

This week is the anniversary of the start of the Korean War. In my manic perusal of the TV channel guide I discovered that all day today Turner Classic Movies is running films on this topic. Nowadays the U.S. media routinely call it "the forgotten war" but at the time Hollywood apparently took due note of it, churning out a goodly number of salutes to that despicable exercise in U.S. imperialist mass murder, starring such notables as Sterling Hayden, Alan Ladd, Richard Widmark and Paul Newman. I was nearly tempted to set the DVR to record one or two of these, just to get a look at how the bloodfest was portrayed, but decided not to, knowing that neither Teresa nor I would be able to stomach their lies.

Want the truth about the U.S. war against the people of Korea and their revolutionary upsurge? Head over to my comrade Greg's blog Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism, where he's posted a series of images from and about the Korean War. As I noted last week in a post about Chang-Rae Lee's novel The Surrendered, the U.S.-allied forces carried out many horrific massacres in Korea. This shot was taken after one of the early ones, at Taejon.

Today in Pyongyang, the northern city that the U.S. invaders totally leveled during the war, leaving not a single building standing, over 100,000 people rallied to mark the anniversary of the war's start and pledge ongoing vigilance against the never-ending U.S. and Japanese war of threats and provocations against the DPRK.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

'You can kill the revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution'

Fred Hampton said that.

Last night I dreamed about Fred Hampton, and then I dreamed about blogging about Fred Hampton, and although I'm not sure why, why today, it was with me when I woke up, this idea that I had to post at least something short about this young man who was assassinated some 40 years ago by the Chicago police in cahoots with the FBI's COINTELPRO drive to destroy the Black Panther Party.

He was a revolutionary. He was a brilliant leader. He was murdered in his bed as he slept.

Earlier this month on her blog Fledgeling, author Zetta Elliott ran a series of posts, including an interview with the writer, about the book One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. This is a Young Adult book; the protagonists are three young Black girls whose parents are in the Panthers, and the story focuses on what that experience was like, seen through the children's eyes. It sounds interesting. I'd like to read it.

I know nothing about YA or children's literature. It's terribly important, though, isn't it, and so I feel like I can't go on much longer just reciting like a numbskull 'I know nothing about it'--I need to get on the stick, do some reading, learn something about it, read some of it. I've been getting more motivated by visiting Ms. Elliott's blog, which has become one of my favorites. She takes on crucial issues about books for young people as well as other matters literary, artistic and cultural.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A bitter anniversary

Fifty-seven years ago today. June 19, 1953.

The crimes of class society are innumerable. The body count ranges from numbers that are nearly incomprehensible -- like the 20 million or more Africans lost to the Middle Passage and the tens of millions of Indigenous inhabitants of the Americas killed within the first hundred years after Columbus landed on Hispaniola or the 70 million dead of World War II -- to casualties we can count in single digits like the four unemployed workers mowed down by Henry Ford's police in the Detroit-to-River-Rouge hunger march of 1932. All these crimes must be remembered, recounted, and eventually avenged.

But the U.S. government's execution of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg, even though they were only two individuals, is an offense against our class that must be noted. They are martyrs of the worldwide working-class struggle. All honor to their memory -- if I had religion I'd say to their sainted memory -- and deepest gratitude for their work and their sacrifice.

Ethel Rosenberg presente! Julius Rosenberg presente!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Surrendered

This morning on the train to work I finished reading The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee. It is a major achievement for this already well established author. I read and liked all three of his previous novels but this one ascends to a whole other level. Lee's prose is dazzling. Sentence after sentence, page after page, his writing leaps and lurches and leads the reader in all sorts of unexpected directions. With this novel even more than his earlier ones, which were all very good, Lee establishes himself as a master of the language. It's not mere pyrotechnics. It's words wielded in service of a bleak, beautiful, wrenching story, words as transport toward terrible wonderful terrain, literal and emotional.

Yet I can't quite regard it as a masterpiece, the kind of monumental accomplishment that will last and be read for ages to come, and that's because it is in my opinion not quite complete.

For this is a novel about, among other things, the human wreckage wrought by war, and as I've noted before, in my opinion "war is hell," even if illustrated with exquisitely brutal precision as in this novel, is no longer an adequate proposition for any work of fiction that aspires to make a profound or lasting contribution to literary culture. On the other hand, the particular war addressed in The Surrendered is one that has mostly faded into literary and historical obscurity, the 1950-1953 Korean War in which several million Koreans died. Spotlighting that particularly ignoble, especially murderous adventure of U.S. imperialism can only be a good thing. In a way, then, perhaps this novel rises above a generic treatment of the horrors of war simply by virtue of its setting, centered as it is in that one specific war about which U.S. readers know practically nothing.

However, the fact is that the only thing any reader will learn about the U.S. invasion of and war against the people of Korea is that the Korean people (and soldiers of both sides) suffered mightily. Now, that matters a great deal, and has been driven home in this country hardly at all, both because of a racist disregard for the victims and because of the U.S.-imperialist-engendered blanket unknowing about what happened and to whom. So making that record is vitally important. However, Lee's take on that war and the damage it did does not identify which side is responsible for the damage, who caused the whole conflagration and therefore all those deaths; thus, unfortunately, his portrayal doesn't distinguish itself by delineating the larger truths about this specific war. I don't suppose there's any harm to fine writers returning to the basic reality that wars destroy the innocents and the hapless conscripts, but I can't see that it offers much either.

Nor is there any reference, in the chapters that take place in the present-day, to the fact that the U.S. military occupation of Korea continues to this day. Worst of all, in several places in the story, Lee refers to the "North Korean invasion of South Korea" or some variation on that formulation. That's the U.S. version of history, of course, and utterly false. The truth is that after the victory of the Chinese Revolution, a socialist revolution led by Kim Il Sung and supported by the majority of Korean workers and peasants was sweeping the nation of Korea and on the verge of victory. To block that possibility, U.S. imperialism and its allies contrived to force a partition of Korea, just as they later would in Vietnam, dividing it into these nominal entities of "North Korea" and "South Korea" and then invading and occupying the southern part of the country and waging war in alliance with the "South Korean" puppet government's troops against "North Korea," that is, the popular revolutionary forces backed by People's China. This, imperialism's bloody counterrevolution punctuated by scores of atrocities such as the U.S. soldiers' massacre of hundreds of adult and child civilians at No Gun Ri, was the scourge of Korea. This is what ravaged the characters so finely wrought in Lee's novel.

The question is whether he could have taken any of this into account. Could he have found a way to use some other formulation than "North Korean invasion," hemmed in as he necessarily is by any perception coming via the filter of his characters and what they see or know or believe? Could he have even gone beyond that and provided even a little of the true context of the war and would that have enriched and deepened the story he sought to tell? I think the answer to all these questions is yes.

Given the ignorance about Korea and the Korean War that prevails in this country, and given that virtually 100 percent of what the U.S. government and news media purvey about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a lie, right up to and including the recent attempts to fake up DPRK culpability for a south Korean ship sinking which the south Korean government officially acknowledged the DPRK had nothing to do with until pressured to change their story by the U.S. State Department, it's disappointing that we've now had two recent novels by major writers that are set partly in the Korean War and partly afterward with characters damaged by it, and that neither steps in any way beyond the proscribed boundaries of the official story of that war.

Of course, these are my criteria for literary value, and they don't jibe with those to which the literary establishment subscribes. Also, obviously, I can't demand that Mr. Lee, a Korean-American, share my ideas about the war in the country of his birth, and it seems a pretty sure bet he doesn't. The Surrendered meets every standard criterion for what literary fiction ought to be: it has beauty, depth, lyricism, sublime artistry. This is a very fine book. I might even end up listing it as one my best reads of 2010 when I think about that at the end of the year. Yet I'm stuck yearning for what more it might have been, what further depth it might have reached had its vision been broader. This book might have achieved greatness.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A fourth, and maybe a fifth? Oy vey!

Now there's a fourth book listed under currently reading. It's a reread actually, probably the third or fourth time I've read this book, Labor's Untold Story by Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais. I'm diving back into it for a fast refresher course as part of my preparation for the class I'm giving next weekend on labor's upsurge in the 1930s. This is a great book, probably the best for anyone looking for an introduction to or a basic survey of U.S. labor history up to the 1950s or so. It's not the be-all and end-all and it's not perfect politically, but for anyone who didn't learn anything in school about the rich history of labor struggle in this country, and that means everyone since none of us were taught this, it's a great way to correct that gap.

A fifth book may even be looming. One evening this coming week I'm going to an information session at the local offices of the Alzheimer's Association with my lover Teresa because a beloved member of our family has the disease and we need to understand it better in order to help as best we can as the crisis worsens. We've already been reading some of their printed material, handouts on this and that aspect, but my guess is that we're going to ask for and they're going to suggest some book titles for deeper insight. Voila, a fifth volume, if I feel compelled, as I expect I might, to delve immediately.

Multi-tasking as applied to book juggling? Attention diffusion? Brain sharpening? None of the above? Who knows, we'll see, and anyway it won't last, this odd moment in my reading life. I'm quite sure that within a couple weeks I'll be back to my normal one book at a time.

Next weekend in Detroit

I can't go to this, but I'm so glad it's happening, and in my hometown of Detroit.

For more information, and to sign up for the conference, go to the website of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. What a historic, welcome development.

The Jewish anti-Zionist gathering is being held during the lead-in weekend before the United States Social Forum, which is expected to draw tens of thousands. The USSF's slogan is "Another world is possible, another U.S. is necessary." There can be no better proof of the latter than Detroit, a city destroyed by capitalism. Many of my comrades will be at the USSF next week, taking part in and leading workshops. Look them up if you're heading to Motown!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A threesome

Anyone who bothers looking way down at the bottom right of this blog will see the title of the book I'm currently reading. If you check it out now, you'll find an anomaly: I'm reading three books at once!

I never do this. I never can understand people who do. How can you move among books? Unless they're all equally uninvolving, in which case why are you reading them at all? I want to be engrossed in any book I'm reading and if I'm engrossed, why would I switch from the engrossing book to another?

Well, now I find myself more or less engrossed in three at once.

First, I'm reading Chang-Rae Lee's new novel The Surrendered. I've read and liked all three of Lee's previous books. Here his writing is heart-grippingly beautiful. Most likely I'll have more to say about it when I finish it.

That's what I'm now thinking of as my regular or normal book. The one I read on the subway to and from work. Usually it would also be the one I read during my lunch hour. But that position, on at least some days, is now held by, of all unlikely titles, Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I am anything but an Updike fan. But a good friend of mine asked me to read so we could talk about it, and I agreed. So I'm moving through it on the occasional lunch hour, essential misogyny, casual racism, homophobia and all.

Finally, at home in the evenings when I'm not working on something else or bombarding my enfeebled brain with TV, I'm reading the graphic book Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. As I reported earlier, last weekend I read his earlier book Palestine. It's very good, and very intense, so intense that I decided to take a breather rather than plunge right into Footnotes in Gaza, which is when I started Chang-Rae Lee's book. However. I can't get Gaza out of my mind, of course I can't, and Footnotes kept staring at me from its perch on my desk at home, so last night I stopped resisting and started reading it. Thus book #3, my evening reading material currently.

So okay, if some similar confluence accounts for the several-books-at-once reading others report, now I get it. For me this is a unique moment in my reading life. Once this trio loosens its grip on me, I trust I'll revert to my usual one-book-at-a-time existence.

In the meantime

I'm now diving in to preparations for this class, which I'm giving next Saturday here in NYC. If you're in the area, come join us! I'll probably pop in to blog only briefly, if at all, in the meantime.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Promises promises

Yes, I know this is supposed to be a books blog, and yes I know that every time I resolve to stick to that focus I stray almost immediately, and yes I'm aware that a great many of my recent posts have had to do with Palestine, and not always with any literary angle. Well, you know, this is Read Red, and sometimes the Red takes precedence over the Read. If I were not paying a lot of attention to the Palestinian struggle at a time like this, I would not be much of a communist, (and as a Jewish communist I have a special responsibility); ditto if I were not getting myself to as many of the protest demonstrations as I can rather than holing up in one of my favorite reading nooks or writing long, time-consuming blog posts. At the same time, I know that one of my frequent, probably pretty annoying by now, refrains here is how I intend to write a fuller, clearer, deeper post about this or that, mostly about questions about reading and writing and political struggle, the most recent of these my intent to lay out some overall observations about Zionism and why you, as a freedom-and-justice-loving, racism-and-oppression-hating person, should oppose it like I do. So yes, I will do that, when I can, just as yes, I will keep doubling back to all the other questions the mulling of which is part of this blog's purpose.

I just can't promise when. There's that labor history class to prepare, and there's a chapbook contest to which I'm preparing an entry, and there's work, including three nights of overtime coming up.

Of course, I wouldn't be me if I weren't currently reading a book, even if only in the snatches of time I can grab on the subway to and from work. Last week I announced my intention of getting Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. I did, and while I was at it I also picked up Sacco's earlier book simply titled Palestine, and this is what I'm now reading. These books are not, as I'd thought, graphic novels. They're nonfiction. Graphic reportage I guess you'd call them. Palestine, which I'm about halfway through, is Sacco's account of his experiences there in the early 1990s, during the first Intifada (uprising). I'm going to hold off writing about it until I've finished reading, and maybe until I've finished the Gaza book too.

But I will say that it's winning me over, as I'd hoped, to graphic literature. The form is extremely compelling, at least in this book. And it's jolted my memory: I did read and appreciate Art Spiegelman's graphic books Maus and Maus II, which tell the story of his parents in the Nazi holocaust, back when they came out 20, 25 years ago. It's fitting, or ironic, or something, I guess, that after reading and not being much impressed by a few other graphic books in the intervening years, the next one that wins me over is this one, about the terrible crimes being committed under the pretext that Israel and its actions are a justified response to the crimes of Nazism.

Zionism has nothing to do with the Nazi holocaust, nor was Israel created as a reaction to it. Zionism, the ideology and the project, emerged in the late 19th century, over 40 years before the Nazis rose in Germany. It was from the start a deeply reactionary movement and it always, until after World War II, had very little support from Jewish people, most of whom were impoverished workers, most of whom were supporters of labor unions and/or socialism. The Jews of Europe wanted to organize and fight. Many of them wanted socialist revolution. They did not want to give up on resisting anti-Semitism--a key tenet of the Zionists was that European anti-Semitism could never be defeated--they did not want to flee to some faraway land and steal it from its indigenous inhabitants. All the propaganda about Israel having been created as a counterweight against Naziism is pure opportunist fakery. In fact, even after European Jewry was nearly annihilated, most survivors did not choose voluntarily to go to Palestine.

So OK, more when I can, with sources cited and books recommended.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Emily Henochowicz

It doesn't sit right for me, as someone in the U.S., to single out for special praise and honor the occasional U.S. solidarity activist who is injured or killed by Israeli military or police forces. It seems wrong to call out by name only the Rachel Corries when we don't even know the names of the thousands of Palestinians, resistance fighters and civilians, adults and children, who have fallen. Rachel Corrie is a hero, a martyr, I believe, but she is one of so many and those so many generally go unnamed, at least here, at least to us in this country.

At the same time, there is something beautiful, something stirring and admirable, about these young people from around the world who travel to Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement and, under Palestinian leadership, do what they can to help. To one degree or another, they sacrifice in the name of solidarity, and that is a wonderful thing.

Emily Henochowicz is the latest of these brave young volunteers to have sacrificed a lot. One of her eyes. Shot out by an Israeli tear-gas cannister on May 31 as she protested the Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre.
I think it is right to salute Emily by name for a few reasons. For one thing, the Palestinian people are doing so; there has been an outpouring of love for her from them. For another, she is a U.S. Jew. She, Adam Shapiro and other young Jews who have broken with Zionism represent a turning point, it seems to me, the leading edge of a long overdue and oh so welcome development that's accelerating and can't be stopped. She is an artist--how specially terrible it must be for a visual artist to lose an eye--yet from all reports she remains strong and committed as she recovers, so for this too I must salute her.

I've spent a little time on Emily's blog, where quite a bit of her art is displayed, and I'm falling a little in love with her, in an aunty way of course. There's whimsy galore. There's deep political engagement. There's joy. Enthusiasm. Sass. There's this, too, in a terrible irony. Her image of an eye, with the words "A Visual Adventure" in the "about me" space. If my impression of this young woman is at all on the mark, I won't be surprised if she leaves this walking eyeball just as it was, or adjusts it in some funny way. She's already logged onto Facebook, three days after losing her eye, and posted this brief update: "Attack of the Cyclops!"

You can take us Jews out of the Zionist camp, but you can't take the wisecracks out of us Jews.

What she won't do, I don't think, is turn away from the injustice she went to Palestine to combat. Well done, my dear young sister. You do us proud.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gaza, Mankell, Meyer, Palestine

Swedish mystery writer Henning Mankell was on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla ship that Israeli forces attacked May 31, killing between nine and 19 people--no one is yet sure of the number dead and no one who has any sense trusts the official Israeli version--and injuring dozens more. In an interview in yesterday's Guardian, he tells about what he experienced. His conclusion: "I think the Israeli military went out to commit murder." He also says he will take part in the next effort to break the Gaza blockade. "And then there could be hundreds of boats. And what will the Israelis do then? Release a nuclear bomb to stop us?" According to the Guardian, Mankell also "said he had been struck by the lack of other writers and intellectuals on the voyage and called on others to become involved."

I'm not a fan of detective or mystery novels. I find them much the same, uninteresting. Also I can't abide stories in which police are protagonists. Despite all this, I just may take one of Mankell's books out of the library and give it a read, simply out of sentiment, gratitude for his stance in solidarity.

Another book I may take a look at is The End of Judaism by Dr. Hajo Meyer. Meyer is a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. He was underground in the Netherlands, in the Resistance, when the Gestapo captured him in 1944 and sent him to Auschwitz. Now 86 years old, he's currently devoting himself to building support for the Palestinian struggle, writing and speaking out. At the moment he's on a speaking tour in England, Scotland and Ireland. Zionist forces are of course furious at him, unleashing all the usual epithets including the desperately silly accusation that he's an anti-Semite for daring to oppose Israel. I'm not sure what "Judaism" in the book's title means, if it refers to the religion, which I have no interest in, or something else, but the blurb does draw me in. "In his observations, deeply colored by his personal experiences during the Holocaust, Meyer compares Israel's current policies with the early stages of the Nazis' persecution of the German Jews ... and [emphasizes] the necessity of foreseeing the possible consequences of a policy that oppresses and marginalizes the Palestinians in their own homeland."

As a baby boomer Jew raised in a stridently Zionist household, I didn't find it easy to break away from all I'd been taught and told. But I did so, long ago. Still, because of how it was inculcated in me throughout my youth, I know the pro-Israel side backwards and forwards. I know the emotions, the confusion, the lies. I also know how good-hearted people are torn, how their instincts are to root for the oppressed, the Palestinians, but that they don't want to be called anti-Semites or be insensitive to Jews. One of my many intentions for this blog is to post about my own political development on the question of Palestine, as a way to address some of this and also in the context of the larger continuing discussion about books and the struggle.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Just a quick note

About two books.

One is the novel I'm currently reading, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I can barely put it down. It's engrossing. For more commentary on this book, you can start with Tayari Jones' blog post about it earlier this year. All I want to say about it at the moment regards its value for the struggle.

I still have some money on one of my Xmas bookstore gift certificates -- I know! Have I been unbelievably disciplined or what! -- and I'm thinking I'm going to go use it tomorrow to buy the book that will be next in line after I finish Wench. It is Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco. This is a graphic novel, a form that unfortunately has not won me over but that I want to love, so what better time, with what better book, to give it a try than this. From what I've read about it, Sacco's book illustrates the current awful situation for the Palestinians of Gaza, blockaded by Israel for over three years now, and delves into history as well.

So what links these two books?

Well, what I want to say about Wench is that it's the latest living example of what Toni Morrison told an interviewer a couple years ago, that "slavery can never be exhausted as a narrative." And especially that "to say slavery is over is to be ridiculous." Slavery is a mere moment ago, if that. It informs nearly everything about present-day U.S. society, political events and struggle. I think that a novel like Wench that forces the reader to engage once again with the realities of that history, the reality of what the system of chattel slavery meant to the human beings who were enslaved, is always timely.

Similarly, a book like what I hope Footnotes in Gaza turns out to be, that delves into the background of current events and lays out some of the history of the Palestinian struggle, can never be unwelcome. If books can inform, open minds, raise consciousness, build solidarity -- and you know I believe they can, though I know I have yet to lay out a good clear case to prove that claim -- then we badly need more books on Palestine.

Some say, however, that historical fiction is dead, deadly, deadening, that it contributes nothing to the current living struggle. That what's needed is fiction about the here and now. Not about the period of chattel slavery but about the present-day rotten racist system, not about the Balfour Declaration or the Zionist terrorist Haganah death squads but about the people starving in Gaza now.

My view is that, first, this view relies on a false dichotomy, as if there is or can be some clear line of demarcation between present and past, as if the past isn't alive in every present moment, and, more important, as if the present can be understood without unearthing its roots. And second, my view is that it's just a mistaken notion, this idea that historical fiction is irrelevant, superfluous. I've been wanting for some time to address this specific issue, the uses of historical fiction, the contributions it can make to the current class struggle. Stick with me, we'll get there soon.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

You can kill bodies but you can't kill the struggle

Yesterday in Times Square.
Marsha Goldberg, me, LeiLani Dowell.

Thanks to Greg Butterfield for these last two photos.

We'll be back on the streets later this afternoon, on Second Avenue in front of the Israeli mission. I'll head up after work in hopes of catching the tail end of the demonstration.

Here's a good statement from the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.

The Israeli forces towed the ships to shore and have now imprisoned all 700-some passengers of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, those they didn't murder, that is. The prisoners include Swedish novelist Henning Mankell. (There, that's my literary tie-in.)

Finally, this news from our long-struggling sisters and brothers from Ireland: they are proceeding to Gaza with their boat the Rachel Corrie.

Long live Palestine!