PUBLISHER’S DREAMS: Finding a Jewel in the Box


Beth Wareham

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Anyone who has ever worked in publishing has a secret longing: To discover a manuscript, dusty, abandoned, forgotten, transformative, beautiful manuscript languishing in a drawer of an old roll top desk or crammed into a shoe box and pushed beneath a bed. We dream of the jewel in the box that only we can find and open. We dream of unleashing a work of genius on the world. It’s a weird fantasy, I’ll admit, but there you have it.

Gone with the Wind. Confederacy of Dunces. 2666, Emily Dickinson. A Death in the Family. The Diary of Anne Frank. Emily Dickinson poems spilling from tabletops and drawers. Everything Franz Kafka ever wrote – flashes of light winking out of the black rock of a deep mine.

My “jewel in the box” rush came with an email from a rock star author I used to publish. His mom had a novel. He didn’t know what shape it was in…it had been written long ago. Would I look?

Long ago was 1950, the beginning of the years author Ruth Sidransky spent in Vienna, smuggling for Jews who survived World War II hiding in the forest. The novel was huge, literally and figuratively, moving across three continents, a world war, genocide, occupation, a marriage, a love affair, God, torture, revenge, annihilation, religion, joy, belief, endless cruelty and death. We learn to love her new friends and as they become closer the cost of their survival is slowly revealed.

Part Sophie’s Choice, part Everything is Illuminated, Reparations is a monumental book that ends with the surprise choice of a thoroughly modern woman and the triumph of the Jewish people to survive and thrive after certain destruction.

Author Sidransky turned 86 this year; proving you just never know where the diamonds are hiding.

This is one of the third books she’ll publish in 2015.

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Martin Amis’s German publishers don’t want “Zone of Interest.”


In a barely fictional Auschwitz, SS officers lead commonplace lives of office politics, busy adultery, marital warfare, child-coping and bureaucratic frustration. Elsewhere in the day they conduct the routines of mass murder. Oh, the problems. Ovens are out of order, batches of jews misbehave, orders from on high ask the impossible given shortages of materials and money. Over all of this is the smell of the dead and dying, an olfactory reproof that penetrates every Nazi household in this eastern Polish neighborhood, a smell no technical wizardry will ever neutralize.

“Zone of Interest” punches holes in the paper-thin histories so many Germans have written for themselves. You would be amazed at how many cultured Germans and Austrians believe to this day that World War II was a tragic struggle against international jewry, its plottings guided by such international jews as Roosevelt and Eisenhower. Contradict these people and be greeted by condescending contempt for yet another naive American. We are “Kriegsopfer” they like to say, victims of war. Look at what you Americans did to Dresden.

Amis describes his book as a comedy of sorts, and indeed middle-class lives are intertwined with an unspeakable abandonment of humanity that creates a theater of the absurd. Amis’s men deal with the daily problems of mass extermination with the same obsessive dedication that produces such splendid vacuum cleaners today.

What probably frightens Amis’s German publishers most is even the most delicate hint of the collective insanity represented in European aniti-semitism of the 20th century. In France, Gallimard also said no to “Zone of Interest” though Amis found someone else there to take his book. Read Frederick Brown’s recent “The Embrace of Unreason” to understand just how virulent French racism was, from Dreyfus to the Nazi occupation and beyond. If those French at war’s end who claimed to be members of the Resistance really were, the Wehrmacht would have been overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

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These.Two.Men. I adore them for different reasons. First, Burt es mas guapo de todos hombres del mundo. I’ve always just known it. Look at his upper arms.

James Dickey was my favorite drunken writer. He’s passed and I have a new favorite drunken writer. Thirty years ago, it was him. James Dickey squinted into the starry-eyes of college students who had come to hear him read, he put on a construction hat with a whirling police light on top, and yelled “is that you, Jim? That you?” Though I still didn’t love Deliverance the book – I loved Deliverance the movie because of Burt (mas guapo) and those amazing lines.

I also loved James Dickey for his sheer rascality, his refusal to be some hot air behind a lectern, reading prose he can’t remember writing nor cares to. He was hilarious! Devilish. Drunk in mid-day. Beyond caring. Out over the edge. So real it was breathtaking. I started reading his poetry and had trouble connecting the whirling beanie with those works of raw art.

What I loved of James Dickey’s was The Firebombing. I loved the drunken poet’s honest heart that was hanging out in Hollywood and demanding, decades later, his imagination confront the damage from the bombs he dropped during the war. Go down, he told it, get off your lounge chair and go down on the ground and look at what your bombs have done.

Here’s a piece of The Firebombing:

Gun down
The engines, the eight blades sighing
For the moment when the roofs will connect
Their flames, and make a town burning with all
American fire.
Reflections of houses catch;
Fire shuttles from pond to pond
In every direction, till hundreds flash with one death.
With this in the dark of the mind,
Death will not be what it should;
Will not, even now, even when
My exhaled face in the mirror
Of bars, dilates in a cloud like Japan.
The death of children is ponds
Shutter-flashing; responding mirrors; it climbs
The terraces of hills
Smaller and smaller, a mote of red dust
At a hundred feet; at a hundred and one it goes out.
That is what should have got in
To my eye
And shown the insides of houses, the low tables
Catch fire from the floor mats,
Blaze up in gas around their heads
Like a dream of suddenly growing
Too intense for war. Ah, under one’s dark arms
Something strange-scented falls—when those on earth
Die, there is not even sound;
One is cool and enthralled in the cockpit,
Turned blue by the power of beauty,
In a pale treasure-hole of soft light
Deep in aesthetic contemplation,
Seeing the ponds catch fire
And cast it through ring after ring
Of land: O death in the middle
Of acres of inch-deep water!