Thursday, December 26, 2013

My year's best

As always, this is a list of my favorites among the books I've read this year, not books published this year. In fact, as always, it's a mix of new, old and very old books. In the face of some health struggles that arose as I entered my seventh decade, a good book has become even more important to getting me through my days. Here are my year's best:

Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur 
Fiction (in no special order)
The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Mo Said She Was Quirky, James Kelman
I Am an Executioner: Love Stories, Rajesh Parameswaran
The Wall, William Sutcliffe
NW, Zadie Smith
Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
Freedom Road, Howard Fast
A Naked Singularity, Sergio de la Pava

Friday, December 20, 2013

Good news, mostly

I don't know whether the new year will see an uptick in my postings here. It just may be. We shall see. The silence lately hasn't been because I haven't been reading, or suddenly have stopped having opinions, or think there's any less need for left literary rants. What I've started having, I'm sorry to report, is some health problems. Mechanic and organic. Nothing life-threatening but real enough that I've just been dealing with them, getting by day to day getting to work and back and not much else.

However. I have high hopes that there will soon be an improvement on the health front, and with that renewed energy for Read Red. Meanwhile there are a couple bright spots in my own literary life to report.

One is that I have a story, "The Ellen Burstyn Equation," in the new issue of Newtown Literary. I admire what the Newtown folks are doing to promote writers from my NYC borough, Queens, and am delighted that my work is included in this latest offering. It's issue #3, and you can order it here.

I haven't taken part in a literary event for a long time, but the second bit of good news is that I will be doing so very soon. It's the upcoming New York incarnation of Stories & Queer, a national reading series highlighting LGBTQ poets and writers.

I'm pleased and honored that Ruben Quesada and Brian Kornell, the brains behind S&Q, asked me to take part. I'll be reading an excerpt from the novel I'm currently working on. So if you're in NYC and don't maintain an inside-on-winter-nights policy -- or even if, like me, you do, you can, like me, suspend the policy for this one night and -- come on down to the Bureau of General Services-Queer Division to join us for some good queer fun.

I'll be back here at Read Red soon with my annual list of the best books I read this year.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gardens of lies

Since I first saw mention of it I've understood that Jonathan Lethem's new novel Dissident Gardens isn't for me. It's yet another entry in the endless procession of anticommunist novels written by this country's petit-bourgeois-liberal literary darlings, published and promoted by the big multinational corporate monopolies that control U.S. literature. Specifically it is one of the also apparently endless stream of madness-of-the-60s novels, in this case with a multigenerational twist as the earlier generation, the 60s generation's parents, are themselves communists in this version. Communists with a big C, Communist Party members, that is. So what's not to like? Well, obviously—and really I could have just assumed this, taken it on faith, but the reviews do make it clear—Dissident Gardens is not to like, is to loathe in fact, because its 40s-50s Communists and 60s-70s radicals are portrayed as, variously, misguided, duped, betrayed, hypocritical, demented, damaged and damaging. Well intended as their political activities may originally be, we're shown, goodhearted as they may start out, the outcome is inevitable: they'll be wrecked and they'll inflict much wreckage, especially on their children and families.

OK so what else is new? This is the official story. This is one way bourgeois consciousness is purveyed in U.S. culture, via fiction, which can be relied upon to show readers the awful errors of characters' ways when those ways lead toward working-class struggle.

However. Lethem's novel goes further than this. It commits an inexcusable slander against the Communist Party USA. I don't belong to the CP, I belong to a different party, nor do I have much respect for what's left of the CP, reduced as it is to a wan left adjunct of the Democratic Party. I do have much respect, however, for the admirable earlier history of the CP, especially as regards its work against racism. This is the Communist Party of W.E.B. Du Bois, of Paul Robeson, of Benjamin Davis, of Claudia Jones; the CP that led struggles against lynch law, that organized the defense of the Scottsboro defendants; the CP of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades where Black and white together went to Spain to fight the fascists; the CP that organized anti-eviction struggles in Harlem and the Lower East Side. Against this proud anti-racist history Lethem conjures up a vile, abhorrent fiction: one of the novel's main characters, a white woman, is expelled from the CP for having an affair with a Black police officer. And, just so we're clear, not because she's consorting with an armed enforcer for the capitalist state, no no no. Because her lover is Black. WTF?!? One of the few if not for many years the only organization in this country in which people of all nationalities worked and struggled together, in which yes there were many "interracial" couples, and Lethem thinks the reader will swallow such a smear against it?

Well yes he does and yes no doubt most will, since most people have no other information to counter this fiction. Further, Lethem's literary lie is helped along quite nicely by Yiyun Li's front-page review in the September 8 New York Times Book Review. Li has the unbelievable gall to write in her review that "had they been allowed, these Communists would not have hesitated to lynch their comrade for sleeping with a black man."

You see how it's done? A reviewer (in this case a staunch anti-communist whose own first novel was a full-on screed against the People's Republic of China given similar front-page treatment when it came out) is handed the front-page slot in the country's leading book review and gets to use it to spew utter nonsense. The Big Lie—just put the opposite of the truth out there and, don't worry, it'll fly! The fighters against racism portrayed as racists! The organizers against lynchings depicted as themselves a wannabe lynch mob! Not only were interracial relationships much more common in the CP than in U.S. society as a whole and much earlier, I actually found a record of the Party expelling someone for making a racist comment against a Black-white couple. Expelled for opposing it, not for doing it! But hoo-hah, what the hell, Lethem is getting his usual plaudits and Li gets in her usual digs against the struggle of the workers and oppressed, and the bourgie book people go along their merry mendacious moneymaking way tra-la.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mid-vacation reading report

I've been on vacation (staycation, for now) for two weeks and have read six or seven books. They've ranged from meh to good to great. Below, a few words on the great one. First, a note on a new phenomenon I've observed: I'm losing the capacity to read vacation-y books. That is, horror, mystery, etc.--light stuff. OK, I've never been into any of that, but most years by the time I tumble into my vacation weeks I'm so tired and wrung out that I feel like all I can manage is some non-taxing reading. What I'm discovering this time is that, pooped and brain-weary as I may be, stuff of little substance doesn't sustain my interest. Yes, I read one or three early in the month--Red Moon, about which see my post below, and a couple after that--and yes they were each a cut above the run of the genre, each touted as literary to one degree or another. One or three was enough. None mattered. As to literary attributes, sure they were not laughably bad, but even in my limpid state not laughably bad is not good enough. Thus it was that when I finally hit the #1 position on the e-book waiting list for a library copy of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, downloaded it, and read the first 70 pages or so, I woke up the next morning realizing I had no desire to read on. Hill is Stephen King's son, not a factoid I'd have commented on if those first 70 pages hadn't read exactly like a Stephen King book--no, not exactly, Hill is a slightly better writer, or at least less prone to pack his prose with irritating repetitive tics of various sorts--but they do. Story, style, characterization, all of it is King-ish to the nth degree. And what I woke up thinking was: who cares? Who cares about this story, these characters? Not me. Luckily, I've amassed a big pile of books, physical and virtual, to choose from over the next two weeks, so chances are decent that I'll find some meatier fare.

I did read one great book earlier this week. Mo Said She Was Quirky by James Kelman. I've blogged before about my regard for this wonderful writer, and with this most recent novel he does not disappoint.

Perhaps two or three times in my life I've read a novel with a female protagonist that left me marveling that the male author was able to write so true, so real a woman character, to so fully inhabit a woman's consciousness. Those all pale next to Kelman's accomplishment here. Consciousness here is both the medium and the message: how her lived life leads to these thoughts, these feelings. You know, being determines consciousness.The book lives us through 24 hours in the head of a young worker, seamlessly conveying all that her life is: work, worry, motherhood, pain, sorrow, sex, hope, love, loss, hope, bitterness, rage, despair, exploitation, frustration, fatigue. In the course of it she observes and comments on racism, women's oppression, homelessness, social service cuts, British imperialism and much more. Kelman is always a political writer, no less here than in his other books. His take is dead-on, here again.

Now I've got two more weeks off work, one more in the city and one--hooray! hurrah!--down the shore where Teresa and I will take our first real vacation in 15 years. I hope to get some good reading in, though I doubt I'll find another book as good as Kelman's this time around.

Monday, July 8, 2013

I bit. No dice.

I spent all four days of the U.S.-imperialist holiday weekend hunkered down in our bedroom with my wife where the air conditioner huffed and puffed and, with a fan added to the mix, kept the space bearable, in the low 80s or so. Yes at a certain point we did get cabin fever but the alternative, venturing out into the muggy smoggy high-90s air and walking somewhere, seemed worse so we stuck it out. Mostly we read. Teresa finished two books, shortish, serious. I finished one, longish, pure vacation nonsense: Red Moon by Benjamin Percy.

Red Moon is a marketer's dream. It's a big fat horror story wholly in the Stephen King/Dean Koontz mold. Yet it's also, supposedly, literary, a step above your standard scary novel. The jacket features blurbs by writers from both sides of the mass-market-vs.-literary-fiction divide, and Percy comes fully credentialed from the lit side, so you see, the idea is to appeal to everyone. OK I bit.

OK describes the novel. It's not eye-rollingly insipid. The writing is fine, yes a step above both King and Koontz who themselves are better than most of their cohort. Honestly, though, I can't work up much enthusiasm. The characters are competently wrought but no more than that. Ditto the action. I never cared much about any of it. I felt no pain, no sorrow, no fear, no tension. I did keep reading, and I'll tell you why.

There is a veneer of political relevance to Red Moon. I was mildly intrigued as I read along, curious as to what direction the politics would take. I had to read to the end to conclude that it's just a veneer. There is no actual honest engagement with actual political issues. There is certainly no side-taking. It's a glib middle-of-the-road petit-bourgeois ever-so-slight glance at relevance, that's about it. Liberalism in literary-horror form.

The werewolves in this book, and the congruent alternate history into which the werewolf plot is slotted, can be read as parallels to, variously: September 11 and the preceding U.S. funding and creation of terror groups, the Bush/Obama "war on terror" and civil liberties, anti-Muslim racism, right-wing vigilantism, anti-immigrant racism, anti-U.S.-imperialist "terrorism," left-radical activism, the 1960s anti-war movement, AIDS and AIDS activism and discrimination against people with AIDS, and I forget what-all else, forgive me, it's quite a mishmash. Pieces of the story echo pieces of these various historic realities at various points. It would be an inaccurate stretch, however, to say these pieces separately or together amount to commentary on any of these political realities. No position is taken; we're just teased along the way, with a sort of authorial wink; I guess we're just supposed to note the clever similarities and leave it at that. No, I'm wrong, there is one position taken: there are bad werewolves and good werewolves, those who want to find a way to get along in society and those who want to destroy non-werewolf society. Oh how very bold and courageous (not!). This is the essence of liberalism, crying woe at the evils of the status quo but clinging to it. This bad terrorist werewolf/good civil libertarian werewolf dichotomy, in fact, reminded me of a book I've been meaning to read for some time, and I've now begun it: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim—America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani.

There's also an unfortunate though not uncommon problem regarding the national question that kept popping out as I read. With only one exception I recall, a brief scene in a cave where several minor characters are introduced with name and nationality, throughout the rest of the book whiteness is a given for every character. If a character is not white it is pointed out (in fact it's often the only thing that's pointed out); otherwise we're to assume the character is white. As in a description of several people in a crowd that goes something like: a tall man with deep laugh lines around his eyes, a stout woman with short brown hair in bright blue capri pants, and a Mexican in jeans and cowboy boots. Wow. That this is still the standard is so sad.

One other point of frustration with Red Moon. It's about the oddly faulty way the quest for a vaccine for werewolfism informs the plot. A vaccine, as is accurately explained early on, is basically a tiny dosage of a version of an infectious agent (virus, bacteria, or, fictionally here, prion) that, once introduced into a person's system, stimulates the immune system to resist it and thereby inoculates the person against any future attack by the infectious agent. It's why I get a flu shot every year (yeah I know you're agin' it, but my public-health epidemiologist super-communist comrade argues for the flu shot and I find his view convincing). OK. So a vaccine is a preventive measure. It's to prevent infection. Perfectly understandable that a key plot strand involves the search for a vaccine to prevent folks bitten by werewolves from themselves succumbing and becoming werewolves. But. Not in the least understandable, in fact perfectly nonsensical, that it seems also to be intended as a cure, which is an utterly different thing than a vaccine. And that in the novel's final pages our hetero-coupled heroes (nope, not a single same-sex-lover anywhere in sight in this 500-plus-page novel with a cast of thousands), having, against all odds, managed to get a hold of the single extant vial of vaccine, are about to administer a dose to themselves. They are already infected! It's a vaccine, not a cure! Oy, I hate it when this kind of thing undermines my readerly willingness to suspend disbelief.

Ah well. One week left till I start my vacation days. I have another fat new supposedly better-than-average horror-type book on my pile but I think I'll let it wait. Maybe it's great but probably it's not, and one non-thrill is enough for this summer.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rajesh Parameswaran is a fucking genius

I don't use the G word lightly. Genius is rare. But I have found it, in the pages of I Am an Executioner—Love Stories, the first book by an extraordinary writer, Rajesh Parameswaran.

Dazzling. Dizzying. Shout eureka! For this is the work of an astounding talent. A true artist—that is, someone with wild, unfettered imagination, boundless creativity, pitch-perfect literary chops, and at the same time engagement with the real world.

Thank goodness I decided to read this book. It was a fluke, as I almost never read short fiction collections. Yeah yeah the short story is the perfect form, I know that's the standard wisdom, but me, I prefer the novel with all its messy imperfection. Wow, what a horror I skirted. What if I'd let my aversion to story collections avert me from this one? I'd have lived my life without ever having experienced the thrill, the joy, the mind-stirring transport that reading I Am an Executioner is.

There are nine stories here. Two are merely excellent, merely beautifully written and perfectly crafted stories, poignant and affecting. The other seven? They. Blew. Me. Away. Five of those seven ("The Infamous Bengal Ming," "Four Rajeshes," "I Am an Executioner," "Elephants in Captivity Part One," "On the Banks of Table River") blew me so far away that I have yet to reassemble myself. Last night I dreamed myself into one of the others—that's how deeply these stories affected me, and I don't recall this ever happening before with anything I've read, though perhaps it has and I've forgotten—I dreamed myself wandering in a gigantic file room, one square mile gigantic, filled with filing cabinets so tall they reached all the way to the yards-high ceiling, and I dreamed that I was trying to find the file reporting on the minutiae of a certain facial expression I might have exhibited one afternoon 22 years before.

Never mind me, though. Perhaps I'm overly susceptible to this sort of thing. Perhaps tonight I'll dream myself an arthropod, not of a Kafkaesque variety, rather one among a future Andromedan population coping with Earth-based colonialism. Oy, I hope not, because I'm afraid my dreaming mind might explode in the effort to meld elements of science fiction, political allegory, thriller, police procedural and tragic romance, all of which elements Parameswaran melds seamlessly in the book's final story.

I don't know if I've ever read fiction that so splendidly interweaves so many layers and levels. These stories, especially the seven mind blowers, are about so very much. Weirdly, as far as I can tell from the several reviews I've read and reader comments at sites like Amazon and Goodreads, very few seem to have picked up on this. They note the postmodern aspects, check. The metafictional element, check. The virtuosity of voice and structure, check check. But is no one reading the multiple meanings in each of these stories? Far be it from me to impose my own worldview on an author whose life and opinions I know very little about, but I don't think I'm nuts to divine in these pieces a great deal beneath the surface. These stories variously touch on racism, emigration and immigration, imperialism, colonialism and neocolonialism, misogyny, homophobia, violence and more. You can read them without taking any of that in, but it's the echoes of the real world embedded in even the most fantastical of the stories that deepen and enrich them, make them not only riproaring wild rides but thought-provoking, profound.

All this, and I haven't even mentioned hilarity sprinkled throughout. Or the panoramic literary and historical allusions with which these stories are packed. Here, named or not, are William Shakespeare, Satyajit Ray, Vladimir Nabokov, Srinivasa Ramanujan and more, probably more than I caught though I caught enough to keep my mind spinning.

And the language! Oy gott the words, the sentences! I NEVER underline in my books—but I couldn't help myself with this one. Some of the sentences, even whole paragraphs, are so stunningly perfect, so evocative and provocative, that they stopped me cold, had me reading them over and over, ultimately unable to proceed unless I underlined them so I could find them again. And I will. Some day when a yearning to read a perfectly expressed fictive idea overcomes me, I'll pull I Am an Executioner off the shelf and find the underlined passage and be delighted anew, reminded again that literary genius, though rare, does exist out there in the world. Over here, in fact, in Queens, where perhaps I've sat next to Rajesh Parameswaran on the #7 train, never knowing I was sitting beside a master.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Wall

I'd hesitated to read TheWall by William Sutcliffe.

It's a story that, without directly saying so, is about the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, about Palestinian life in West Bank cities and villages torn asunder by the ever-encroaching settlements and the apartheid wall. The story is framed as a first-person narrative by an Israeli boy--it's seen through an Israeli child's eyes, not a Palestinian's. And it's not written by a Palestinian. For all these reasons I'd been leery. In a novel that fits this description there's so much that could go wrong, even with the best authorial intentions.

Then I read this review by Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa, whose wonderful novel Mornings inJenin I'm glad to have occasion to plug here again, as the international bestseller translated into 33 languages is beyond crucial reading for anyone who seeks to understand the Palestinian experience of the criminal racist Zionist project. Abulhawa opens her review, sure enough, by noting "that a Palestinian might have reason for pause when confronted with a novel that reflects life under Israeli occupation, written by a British Jewish author.

"Right or wrong," she writes, "the author's background is relevant to me in such circumstances. So I admit that I picked up Sutcliffe's latest novel, The Wall (Bloomsbury, 2013), holding my breath, because a people's narrative, their truth, their memories, and their very real pain, is not to be taken lightly in literature."

Given these caveats, Abulhawa's conclusion is stunning. She calls The Wall "the best work of fiction on Palestine written by a non-Palestinian."

Wow. Sutcliffe must be humbled by such strong praise from such an esteemed source. Please read Abulhawa's full review. And, if you care to, the following few thoughts of mine.

Sutcliffe subtitles the novel "A Modern Fable." Indeed, it's a fast read with few characters, a clear through line and, most important, an unambiguous moral center. This is a story about a young person discovering hidden truths, finding out he's been lied to, finding friends where he's been warned were his enemies, and finding the strength to do the right thing, ultimately at profound personal cost.

The last page had me weeping, as the protagonist tells us:
I tried to help and I failed, but I can try again, and I can keep trying, and if I fail again I can try once more. With this realization, I immediately feel renewed, fortified, blessed, knowing that even if I spend my whole life failing, I will be failing at something I believe in; I will be fully alive and fully me. If the alternative is to do nothing, to forget, there is no alternative at all. How can I possibly forget [phrase redacted to avert plot spoiler] … the soldiers and The Wall and the people who are supposed to be invisible?
His name is Joshua, clearly an allusion to the biblical story—only this Joshua, we're left hoping, will not be the leader of an army of invasion. This Joshua will do what he can as a supporter of an army of liberation led by the oppressed themselves, an army that will bring the racist occupiers' apartheid wall tumbling down. (Modern-day Jericho is itself in the West Bank, and has been occupied and attacked repeatedly by Israel not only in 1967 but repeatedly in the years since.)

I'd also like to think that the novel's title The Wall is a nod to the great 1950 novel of the same name by John Hersey. That earlier book was a fictionalized account of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and the uprising against the Nazi occupiers there by the besieged starving Jews. Sutcliffe is suggesting a parallel, I think, between today's Palestinians—walled off from their land and squeezed into ever shrinking spaces, deprived of their livelihoods, malnourished, unable even to get aspirin as in one of the key plot elements here—and 1943's Warsaw Jews. You know what that makes Israel. And you know I agree.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lesbian Pride: a love letter to Monica Nolan

That subject line is false advertising. I do love Monica Nolan but this won't take the form of a love letter as I'd originally intended. See, I can't pull it off, no matter how I try. I'd wanted to do a version of what she does, what she's done in her books that are beyond fabulicious. I'd planned to write an early-1960s-style missive, one lit gal to another, laying out the whys and wherefores of my adoration. Every time I tried, however, it came off false. Full of gee's and gosh'es and an assortment of other strained back-in-the-day-isms. A patent pastiche. Utterly devoid of the breezy panache with which she pulls off her wondrous feats of homage.

For that, at least partly, is what Monica Nolan's novels are. An homage to 1950s-60s lesbian pulp fiction, three so far in the lesbian career girl series. The covers are juicily delightful.

I've read them all. My best friend gave me this first one, Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary, a few years ago. I squealed with delight when I first saw it. For I too am a lesbian secretary and yes I could tell you a tale or two of lesbian secretarial shenanigans, especially in an office I worked in some 30 years ago where by some miracle of the goddesses almost the whole clerical crew was of the Sapphic persuasion and we all persuaded each other if you know what I mean. Ahem. Anyway. This is the book that introduced me to Monica Nolan and her craftily inventive comic fiction.

I've read more than a few of the originals of these types of books, and I can tell you that Nolan knows her stuff. She pulls it off masterfully, winkingly telling tales of innocent girls landing in the big city and being led happily astray, tales that are true in language and spirit to the old-school books. Yet while these novels parody the originals--and in laugh-out-loud ways--they also lovingly salute them and manage to be touching at the same time. And tell fun, exciting, and, yes, romantic stories. You root for the protagonist in each and feel well acquainted with all the characters. My best friend also gave me this second one, Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher, a couple years ago. Loved it!

Now, a couple weeks ago, my friend alerted me that a third book in the series had just been published. In fact, she called me from San Francisco asking me to help her with a conundrum. What to read? She was in the midst of a very good novel but had just come from the bookstore where she'd picked up Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante, Nolan's newest. She'd started reading it on the bus ride home, and now she couldn't decide whether to keep reading Maxie or go back to the very good other book she'd been reading. The hell with my friend's dilemma--now that I knew there was a new Nolan out, I ran to the store myself and picked it up. I read it last week. Enjoyed it equally to the first two.

There are so many delectable bits to savor in these books. Nolan's penchant for hilariously alliterative names, not limited to the title characters. The wide-eyed-innocent colloquialisms her characters mouth, as well as the yummy sexual euphemisms. But she also embeds some serious stuff, and many nods to historical reality, more so as the series proceeds. The second book referred to communists and the red scare. This third one has one of the characters gone off to Mississippi with the Freedom Riders. Best of all is Nolan's version of the early-60s lesbian proto-activist San Francisco scene. She's got the girls volunteering at a newsletter called The Step Stool, modeled after The Ladder, the first national lesbian publication. She's got the "Sisters of Sappho" standing in for The Daughters of Bilitis. And so on.

Peppered throughout, too, are hints of the beginnings of consciousness, an urge toward fighting oppression, the start of something like pride. Keep going, Monica Nolan! Take us all the way to Stonewall, and beyond! I'll stick with you every step of the way. For the fun and the lesbian kick of it, and yes for something like the pride of it.

See y'all on Fifth Avenue next Sunday. Happy LGBTQ Pride Month!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I wish I could have heard Ethel sing

June 19, 2013, is the 60th anniversary of one of the most heinous crimes of the U.S. government, which has committed many many heinous crimes: the execution of Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg, two communist workers who were the victims of a monstrous mendacious frame-up. They were wholly innocent of the concocted charge of providing the "secret of the atomic bomb" to the Soviet Union. But they were friends to the USSR, and to all people worldwide fighting for socialism, and they did what they could to aid in this fight. For that, their courageous acts of internationalist solidarity; for their lifelong devotion to the cause of justice, liberation, anti-racism, and working-class struggle; and of course for their noble refusal to submit and "confess," to betray their beliefs or their comrades, to lie, to sell out, even at the cost of their own lives—the Rosenbergs will always be remembered as true heroes. I believe that in the pantheon of heroes of the ages, heroes of the world's workers and oppressed, a pantheon made up not of imaginary supernatural beings but of merely human beings, people who did their best to their last breath, there will always be a place of honor for the Rosenbergs.
I was born a year after they were killed, and I can see now what I couldn't know then as a little kid in the 1950s. How along with the obvious anti-worker, anti-communist, anti-union, anti-struggle McCarthyite message it was meant to send, the Rosenbergs' execution also cast a specifically anti-Semitic chill that I believe partly explains the sense of siege, of threat, that my parents gave me to understand hovered over our Jewish household in suburban Detroit 10 years and more after the defeat of Nazism in Europe. I'll never know, but I wonder whether the fear engendered by the Rosenberg case didn't play a role in my mother's eventual rightward shift over the years. As for me, I didn't learn about the case until I was in high school, probably 1969 or 1970, a time of protest and rebellion that was bringing me to political consciousness. From then on I've always had a deep feeling of awe, love and respect for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. For the sacrifice they made. For the good comrades they were. As millions of others worldwide felt, and feel, and will continue to feel.
And so this past Sunday evening I was thrilled to be at Town Hall for a wonderful event sponsored by the Rosenberg Fund for Children to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the execution, celebrate today's families of resistance, and raise funds (which I hope it did!) for the RFC's good work of supporting and aiding political activists, especially imprisoned activists, and their families. It was called Carry It Forward: Celebrate the Children of Resistance. I'd attended a similar event 10 years ago on the 50th anniversary. That night I was pretty weepy the whole time. This night not so much, hooray! Yes there were tearful moments, primarily when actors Eve Ensler and Cotter Smith read from Ethel and Julius's prison letters to their children Robby and Michael, letters full of love, full of life, full of hope not for themselves but for the world. But overall it was a joyous evening, an evening of affirmation, of defiance and solidarity and music, and I left feeling strengthened and buoyed.

If Ethel and Julius had lived, I might very well have known them, for I travel in the same circles they did. Perhaps I would have had the chance to hear Ethel sing--she was by all accounts a lovely singer--at some rally or movement program. Wouldn't that have been something.

The Town Hall program the other night ended with a rousing rendition of the great Bob Marley/Peter Tosh song "Get Up Stand Up," performed by Latino hip hoppers Rebel Diaz with folk duo Mike & Ruthy. Gathered onstage singing along were the evening's narrator Angela Davis, the Rosenberg sons Michael and Robby Meeropol, Carry It Forward writer Ellen Meeropol, Ethel and Julius's granddaughter Jenn Meeropol who's the new head of the RFC, and all the actors and performers who had brought the evening to life with their portrayals of activist targets of government repression who have been RFC beneficiaries. 
We the audience, including many elders who were the Rosenbergs' contemporaries, who marched for them, who wept at their deaths, who still know which side they're on, and the rest of us, we got up, we stood up, we sang too, and at the risk of sounding mawkish I think we all of us felt an echo of Ethel and Julius singing along with us, our martyrs whose voices have never been stilled.