Saturday, 8 October 2016

Global Citizens by Keren David

Two very cheering bookish things happened to me this week.  

First, I was proud to play a small role in the magnificent auction organised by my wonderful friend Fiona Dunbar -  Authors for Refugees. 
Fiona, known among her many friends for her warm and generous heart, threw herself into trying to make life better for the thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and oppression. 
She went to Greece as a volunteer, helping to build a home for refugees. Then she worked hard to set up the auction, organise a website and cajole as many authors, agents, editors and others to donate their books, their time and their expertise. The auction raised more than £22,000 and yet again -  after auctions for Japan and for the Philippines  - showed the strength of the writing community when we come together to do good stuff. 

Second, I was rather startled to receive a very public apology, not just to me, but to the whole Jewish community. This came from Jo, a book blogger, who I know to be a very thoughtful and hard-working person who reviews, interviews and themes her blog in ways to make her readers think. Last year she reviewed my book This is Not a Love Story, and expressed frustration at my use of 'Jewish' words, which she didn't understand and had to look up, it got in the way of her enjoyment of the book. 
Last week, Jo had read a blog post about diversity issues in reviewing, and realised that her original review could be construed as racist and offensive, because it presumed that a minority group should educate and translate for the majority. Jo therefore took the courageous act of calling herself out as a racist, apologising in public, and changing the wording of the actual review. 

Now, I didn't find Jo's review offensive, although I did notice that she only mentioned the 'Jewish' words - some Hebrew, some Yiddish, some slang -  and not the Dutch ones (the book is set in Amsterdam). I would never have called her racist or antisemitic. In fact her review prompted me to write a post about the language that I used in the book, and I was glad to write it. I was even gladder to be free to write and publish a book which included Jewish characters and Jewish words, and hopefully did it in a way that bust some assumptions and stereotypes for readers.  

These two things were particularly cheering because, like many other people, I was shocked by Theresa May's attack on the idea of being a global citizen this week. I'm sure Mrs May didn't mean to sound offensive, but she certainly managed to offend me. My kids were pupils at an international school, they were brought up to be proud of all their identities. English, British, Jewish, Amsterdammers, Europeans and global citizens. Here they are (front row) at the school's Global Village day 2006, representing England and the UK in the annual parade of nations.  

  It was chilling to hear our Prime Minister speak against the values of internationalism and understanding that an international school celebrates, not just on global village day, but every day. 

So thank you Fiona and thank you Jo! May your actions speak louder than Mrs May's words. 


Penny Dolan said...

That auction was a wonderful effort - and success - so hooray for Fiona and all the authors and illustrators involved!

Good as well, Keren, to read of a reviewer thinking more deeply about the content of a book, and for saying so. It's easy - heavens, I surely know - to read something from just one perspective, especially when reading in a hurry or for a particular purpose.

David Thorpe said...

Like you I agree Theresa May is dangerous and doesn't get internationalism. We are witnessing a political lurch to the right, post-Brexit. It's not an economic lurch yet, but when the low value of the pound and the Article 50 negotiations start to feed though, it will be.