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My Ironic Story

Are Arabic-speaking Christian writers ever advised to make their heroines Hebrew-speaking Jews?

Gila Green 

Gila Green sent me a very talented novel "Passport Control," that raised some of the most painful and yet important questions about contemporary Israel and how its political riddles touched the lives both of Israelis, Palestinians. What was particularly compelling about her book is that it is told in the voice of a young woman who has recently come to live in Israel and tries to understand and empathize with those who seem locked in an intractable situation. I read it with fascination and thought our readers might enjoy a note Gila sent to me some months ago. I felt the glow of something more than irony in its news."

Mark Jay Mirsky 

My novel Passport Control was accepted last fall by a small NY press, a subsidiary of one of the Big Five. Dreamy, right?

Passport Control was originally a short story written while at Bar Ilan University in author Steve Stern's class. It was about a Canadian, Jewish girl with a Yemenite-Israeli father, who studies for one year at Haifa University. There she finds herself with one Druze, one Palestinian, and two Israeli roommates, none of whom get along.

The contract was signed. We finalized a cover. Got down to revisions with an editor I adored. Six months passed. My release date was within reach.

But it was not to be. The publisher went bust. My book was passed along to one of the Big Five. All in one email.

I was told a Palestinian would have to read my manuscript, then a Jewish-Israeli, then an American sensitivity reader would step in.

Soon every second word was underlined in red. I'll spare you, but there wasn't much in my novel that wasn't deeply offensive and by extension I was deeply offensive. It was impossible not to feel that way.

I got several emails like: "What are you trying to say with this novel? Surely, what you want to say is that deep down we are all the same."

Anyone who has ever been married, had a child, sibling, friend or gone outside surely knows that deep down we are not anywhere near the same.

Who would want to live on a planet in which everyone was the same? Would growth even be possible in such a place? But I suppose robots don't need to grow.

I was advised to go "toward them" and "to be flexible." I didn't want to ruin my reputation, come off as difficult, destroy my career

I tried to please them. I revised. Revised again. I wrote things that I knew belonged to some other novel, not mine. You already know, nothing worked.

Then I was advised to make my Jewish-Israeli-Canadian heroine an Arabic-speaking Syrian Christian. It would work so much better and be so much more original, if my heroine wasn't Jewish at all. An Arabic speaking Christian! Are Arabic-speaking Christian writers ever advised to make their heroines Hebrew-speaking Jews?

I looked at things from their point of view. They are a young adult imprint in a time of identity politics and political correctness. They need to protect themselves.

I asked if I could be moved to one of their many adult imprints, no matter how small. I had a signed contract, I had now gone through two novel covers. I had already agreed to pushing my release date forward only months before it was meant to be published. I was asking only for them to press the forward button with a short note that I was an author on contract and could another imprint consider this novel. My thinking was that my heroine was originally twenty and I would return her to her former age and thereby place my novel in a less sensitive age group for publication.

The answer was 'no time for that.' They declined to publish my novel.

I won't pretend it wasn't a deep disappointment. But one small press had loved the novel, the USA was a big place, if one loved it there had to be another out there.

I put the novel back into its pre-sensitivity reading shape. I made a strong coffee and a long date with Google.

I sent it to a small American/Palestinian publisher in Virginia.

This woman married a Palestinian 50 years ago and has put out two books about her experience living in a refugee camp for 11 years.

She's a pro Pal activist and guess what?

She LOVES the book.

"This is a good story," she wrote after the first reading.

She did say that she would have written "the war with Syria differently and can we negotiate that?" (She never mentioned it again.)
She also said she is considering adding it to her Palestinian series because "it might alienate some of her readers, but also generate curiosity".

How is that?

Signing with her, the irony was palpable,

Exactly twelve months after one of the Big Five asked me to make my heroine not Jewish at all, Passport Control was released on Amazon by S&H Publishing.

What does that tell you about sensitivity readings?


On Gila Green's "Passport Control" — Fiction

Gila Green [Tal] was a student of mine some years ago in the graduate creative writing program at Bar Ilan University. Since then I have followed her fiction with pleasure and printed it in Fiction, [See—Gila Tal, Brass Knuckles, Fiction Magazine, Volume 20, #2]. Some years ago she left her home in Canada to eventually settle in Beit Shemesh and her work often echoes of the disparate worlds of those who come to live in Israel from other places.
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Tuesday, 23 April 2024

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