Saturday, September 15, 2012

Guest Post by Author Lily Byrne

Lily Byrne is the author of a number of fine novels written under her pen name Lily Byrne, and her real name Catherine Chisnall.  This post is about her latest, and why she wrote it. It's a sequel to "Ragnar the Murderer", which is set in 10th century Britain. I like her writing. I think you'll enjoy her post.

“Why I wrote an M/M romance”

I am just an ordinary married mum of one—why would a respectable type like me write about two hot guys getting it on? Many people have asked me that…

The main reason is that I like going out of my comfort zone. I like writing about subjects that—for me—are unexpected or make people about things they haven’t before. I’ve written about a relationship between a teacher and a student; people thrown together by a death; lovers from different cultures, in this case Saxon and Viking.  Subjects that readers wouldn’t expect me to write about.

My Saxon/Viking romance, ‘Ragnar the Murderer’, led to sequels following the characters, and I developed the idea to write an M/M romance set in 10th century Britain. The Norsemen had settled in Britain but were in conflict with the natives, it was an unsettled time full of dangers and risks. The Norse culture was extremely homophobic, unlike some other cultures of the time, so it was very interesting to research how gay Norsemen would be treated and what would happen to them. I didn’t intend any of my characters to be gay, but I just noticed one of them was. Various ways he behaved—constant bitchy comments, accusing everyone but himself of being gay, obsessive womanising—all added up. What would happen if I wrote in a boyfriend for him? The ‘what if’ was too tempting to ignore. So I followed it.

Another reason is obvious, I’m afraid. I like men, and as my friend and fellow author, Sessha Batto, says ‘one man is good, two is better.’ I had already written M/F romances, so I wanted to try M/M and see if I could do it, like a challenge to myself. Besides, I like my characters and want them to be happy—after a series of events testing them of course—so if the hero didn’t want a woman, I’d give him a man.

I enjoyed writing my first M/M romance. I’ll leave that to readers to decide if the story—and the romance—are convincing. My book will be published in October.

This is my blog (where my books are for sale):  Really must get a better name :/

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From time to time Tostada Speaks changes directions, and this is one of them. From this day forward, this is a blog for writers to post about what they do, why, how, and other subjects about writing, the writing life, their books and their works in progress.

This is a painting my mother did back in the mid 1920s when she was in her twenties. She was an artist, I'm a writer. Sometimes this little painting describes where I am or where I want to be. That's life. That's what I write about. Now to give someone else some say here, I'll leave and be back a bit later with a contribution from one of them.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Moving on with my writing goals

Looking into the Distance
Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

I've had a good time doing book reviews on Tostada Speaks over the past couple of years, and dong commentary before that. But my primary purpose as a writer is to write books. So, as of this date, Tostada Speaks is closed. I simply must focus my energy on the books I am writing and plan to write.

Right now I'm working on a children's novel about a 9-year-old boy and his dog. The novel is set in the Alki neighborhood of Seattle, Washington where I grew up. (I didn't grow up in the Alki neighborhood, but I got to know it very well. I grew up in the California and Admiral Way neighborhood which is up on top of the hill.  

I appreciate each and every one of you who has been following Tostada Speaks. I still have a public voice on my blog on my website, And, yes, "geoge" is spelled incorrectly, but that's the way I have it, and it will get you there. I've been blogging there about once a month on various topics related to writing, so drop on over.

You'll also find news about my books and other writings I've published over the last few years.

Thank you once again for your loyalty. I appreciate each one of you. Enjoy all your days.   

George Polley, aka Jorge Tostada

Sunday, May 20, 2012

An unforgettable page-turner of a crime novel

When I read Rags Daniels Lallapaloosa I knew that this man is a major new crime and thriller writer. Having just finished his newest novel, Foxy Lady, I know he is. 
Corrupt politicians, meddling bureaucrats, financial shenanigans, murder, rape and plenty of intrigue; add a beautiful young woman named Lady Carolyne Dryden who runs the family’s London policy auction house, and D.I. Reid, one of the most delightfully irascible police detectives in fiction; stir in revenge, sex and Inspector Reid who is determined to get to the bottom of all this mayhem in spite of his interfering superiors, and you have one of the best can’t-put-it down novels I have read in a while. On top of that, foxy lady Carolyne is foxy in every sense of the word: sexy, smart, not someone to be trifled with, and very, very deadly. Each of the characters is very well drawn, the action fast-paced and believable, and the story pulls you along until the very end.
Foxy Lady almost demands a sequel, and I hope Mr. Daniels writes one. If he does, I’ll be sure to read it.
An unqualified 5 star read.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A magical tale of intrigue, danger, magic and young love

The House of Sapphire Magic: Breaking Glass, the second novel in John Booth’s Magic Series, focuses on an evil project of Max Drexel, a powerful business tycoon. On the surface, the project looks respectable; after all, it is presented to the public as an orphanage for children who have no relatives who could care for them. Under the surface, the project is much more sinister: the orphans are guinea pigs in an experiment.
It isn’t long before the two eldest Grange children, Mandy and William become involved, as Max Drexel is out to buy their property and tear down their house. Glass, one of the  magical house guardians, uncovers the plot when she accidentally stumbles into the real world, thus discovering the magic powers of the sapphire ring that Mrs. Grange gifted her.
This is a fast-paced, action-packed little novel. If you enjoyed John Booth’s The House of Silver Magic, you are sure to love this one. I understand his Gold Magic: Terror in Mind  has recently been published, so give that one a look also. 
John Booth is a magical writer, with several series of novels, all very much worth reading, and all involving magic in one way or another.
The House of Sapphire Magic is a definite 5 star read.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Two from the capable pen of Kate Rigby

What happens when a beloved eldest daughter drowns in a boating accident and her sister feels at fault and left out by both parents because they are so torn apart by grief? In this case, she runs away and lives with people who live in the fringes of society, about as far away from her parents world of wealth and privilege as one can imagine. Far Cry From The Turquoise Room is a story that could easily have been romanticized, but isn’t. It is gritty and real and, as novelist and reviewer Susannah Burke says, “is a novel not to be missed.” 
A definite 5 stars.

Savage to Savvy is the story of an eleven year old girl who was bred to be a feral child who was raised by dogs. It is also the story about a place called the Institute of Developmental and Behavioral Psychology and its Director, an Albanian immigrant named Elena, a dodgy character named Aleksander, a man named Rob Ivory (aka “the Singing Man”), and Heidi, the young psychologist who solves the riddle of who Nikki is, how she became a feral child, and exposes the Professor and his “research” as frauds.
Ultimately, Nikki escapes her minders and returns to where she is the most comfortable, living in the wild with the animals she loves and understands. From a savage, she has become savvy to the ways of humans. As a young teenage girl caught between two worlds, Nikki is also very vulnerable to harm, as she lacks the knowledge she needs to live successfully in a world that is controlled by humans. She isn’t savvy enough to make it in the world, and I fear for her future.
I give this one 5 stars because of its theme and the skill with which Kate Rigby tells the story. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A valuable companion to take along on the adventure of life

Reading Quantum Meditations is an adventure and, like everyone knows, adventures take patience and time to bring their rewards each step of the way. 
The best way to read this book is to sit down with it and take your time to savor each poem as you would a fine meal that is served in multiple courses, each one delivered when the one you’ve been enjoying has been savored and it is time to  move on to the next. If you’re looking for a fast food kind of book, you’re better off looking elsewhere. But if it’s wisdom that you’re seeking, this book is a wonderful companion to spend some quality time with.
As the great mystics and poets have shown us so well, change sometimes appears to occur suddenly when all the pieces come together. In “Quantum Leap” (page 51), PD allen writes:
“Change in a complex
system occurs incrementally
bit by bit
below the surface
while the system as
a whole appears stable until
some critical threshold
is exceeded. And then
the entire system appears
to change in one instantaneous
The key word and concept is “incrementally”, the way our universe was created in the cataclysmic explosion we call “The Big Bang”.
The first poem, in the section called “Opening Enigma”, is “The Flame”:
“I am the flame,
    not the reflection
I am the flame,
                                               by the fluttering
                           of the moths.
I am the flame.”
In his commentary on the Opening Enigma series (page 221), he writes: “Our journey begins with the unanswerable riddle of who we are. There are no words to answer this riddle, but if you look within  you will find the answer. We are that which is forever outside of its definition. We are that which defines itself.” 
So take your time with this great book.  Breathe calmly and deeply, linger with each poem, taste each syllable and sound. There are three volumes of Quantum Meditations now available to take with us on our journey through life. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are (I am 78); what matters is that we learn to live our lives consciously and without fear. 
“Have wings that feared ever 
touched the sun?
I was born when all I once
feared -- I could
-- Rabia of Basra, c. 717-801
In “Our Song” (page 49), he writes:
“The world sings for me
All I need do
      is listen.”
PD Allen’s Quantum Meditations is a valuable addition to meditation literature. You will never finish reading it, just as I never finish reading those books in my library from which I draw sustenance and insight.
This book is a clear 5 star read, one that I highly recommend.

Monday, April 9, 2012

An engaging and unforgettable novel of love in a time of violence

“Duende” is a Spanish word that refers to the deeper, more earthy notes and sounds of life where all is not light. Set in Spain (mainly in Barcelona and Madrid) in the years between World War One and the Spanish Civil War of 1936, duende is a prominent presence in the novel as Spain devolves into increasing social discord and violence. Yet the novel isn’t only about that; it is also about one of the great love stories in literature as these two young men begin their careers and grow as life around them descends into the darkness of civil war and Francisco Franco’s fascist regime. 

Once I opened “Duende” and began reading, I found it impossible to put the book down. 
The story follows the lives of Antonio (“Nayo”) and José from their school days in Barcelona to their studies and developing careers in Madrid and does it so well that I felt I was there as Nayo painted and José studied and taught philosophy as their world gradually descended into violence. Reading “Duende” is more than reading about these two men and the world they lived in, it is being there, being inside their heads as they struggle to comprehend the forces that threaten to tear their world apart. I have seldom read a novel that is quite like this one, that includes in such detail the intellectual and creative struggles of its characters, and makes it so lifelike and lively that I felt a part of the story. How is it possible to include so much information about what a philosopher teaches and an artist struggles with and make it vitally interesting to a reader? Yet Lizzie Eldridge does it, does it superbly well, and does it in her debut novel. I am impressed.
The love between Nayo and José is tender, poignant, and beautifully drawn. I felt I knew these two men, that they’d be a joy to have coffee with, that I couldn’t wait until Nayo’s next exhibit (I even knew what painting I wanted), and I feared for them and their friends as the situation in Madrid worsened. 
Lizzie Eldridge is a writer to watch. I look forward to her next book. This one is a definite 5 star read.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A spellbinding memoir of escape from tyranny and death.

I am willing to bet that most people know very little about the Ukraine and its history beyond the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and perhaps the Ukraine's independence when the Soviet Union unraveled. Fewer still may know about Stalin’s brutal campaign to starve the Ukrainian people into submission in the years before World War II. That is the world into which Andy Szpuk’s father, Stefan, was born and where lived until, as a young teenager, he and his father were forced to flee their home village to avoid execution at the hands of the invading German army. After a few months with his father’s sister and her family in a town further west, the whole town was forced to flee to the west to avoid the now retreating Germans. From there, Stefan and his father are pretty much on their own.

Imagine being 14 or 15 years old, being on the run, wondering what has happened to your mother, and what will happen to you as you flee into the Carpathian Mountains, cross into Slovakia (Czechoslovakia), into the Czech region ... and then your father is killed in an air raid, leaving you absolutely alone and knowing only one thing: you must find food, and you must continue going west until you reach Germany just as the war has ended and you are at the very end of your rope.
This memoir is a page-turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat, make you cheer and weep and give a high five to Stefan when he makes it to England and begins a new life. Then another high five when he and his family visit his old home village to meet family members he has never seen.
My hat is off to his son Andy for writing his father’s story down so the rest of us can read it, and to the Ukrainian people for never giving up no matter what the obstacles are.
A definite 5 Star read.   

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Humanity in the dark and in the light

When I read a publisher’s description about their books, I take it with a grain of salt. After all, the publisher is doing what they should be doing, which is promoting their book, so when I read Night Publishing’s promotional blurb, I shrugged it off. And then I read the book. Here is what Night Publishing has to say about it:
Once in every while a unique vision emerges without warning and without precedent, that follows no trends, is virtually impossible to copy, and that has a resonance that grows and grows until it risks taking you over entirely.
Such a book is 'Not a Man'.
At its core, it's the story of a ten year old boy, Shuki Bolkiah, who is so grossly abused that he will never grow up to be a normal adult human being.
But it is so much more than that …..
Firstly, there is the writing that is almost like a whispered prayer, a sacred text.
Then there is the abuser who really does love the boy he abuses and wishes to care for him forever.
…. and there is the country, harsh and magnificent, where deadly feuds spring from nowhere and many women are treated far worse than Shuki, ill-used and left to starve.
Finally, there is Shuki himself, so irresistibly beautiful, so vulnerable, so intelligent, and so deadly in his turn.”
I could write many more words about this book, but I won’t, other than to add these few comments: This is a very well-written book by an exceptionally talented writer, but it you are not likely to find it an easy book to read. Like life, some of it is very hard to bear. And finally, there are these words by the publisher that says it all: “This is not a man. This is not a book. This is humanity in the dark and in the light. This is hope.” Eloquently said, and very true.
“Not a Man” is an unforgettable book, and I give it a definite 5 star rating. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

A wonderful collection of stories by a masterful storyteller

I enjoy reading short stories, and Heikki Hietala’s “Filtered Light” is one of the best collections I have read in a long time. One of the things I find so magical about this author is his ability to tell a story, tell it well, and tell it in a way that the story and its characters linger. A wise old Sami shaman, an elderly priest in an English village during the 2nd world war, a haunted pipe organ, a boy and his imaginary friend (but is his friend really imaginary?), a Moroccan souk, in the skies over Germany during the war, a Russian peasant in Siberia during the early days of Stalin’s reign, and a small Finnish theme park in which one of the park employees has the last laugh. That particular story has one of the best laugh-out-loud lines in it that I have read anywhere. 
I could go on and on, but won’t. Pick up a copy of this collection of wonderful stories. It’s available in paperback and Kindle, from Pfoxmoor Publishing.
5 stars 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A hauntingly unforgettable story of tragedy and love

J. Eric Laing’s debut novel, Cicada is a remarkable story of love, hardship, guilt and racial tension in America’s deep south. It is a page-turner from the opening scene all the way to the end. In the opening scene, farmer John Sayre sits in his truck with the barrel of a gun in his mouth. Should he kill himself or shouldn’t he? The scene is so cinematic that I could taste the oil and feel the metal of the gun barrel in my own mouth. One reviewer calls the book a “tense Southern Gothic page-turner”, which it is. Another says it reminded him of William Faulkner, one of the best writers around sixty years ago. It reminds me of Faulkner as well, yet it is far more. It is so real that I could hear the whir of the cicadas and feel the oppressive summer heat.
It is the story of a man who is guilt-ridden over his older brother’s death when they were schoolboys. It is the story of racial conflicts in a changing South, where some of the local Good Old Boys are active in the Klan and lynch a local black man “to teach them folks a lesson.” it is a scene so chilling that I still see and feel it. It is the story of changes in a small Southern town where traditions die hard. It is a story about a man’s love for his young son and his wife, and the affair he has with Cicada, a beautiful young black woman. Cicada will run you through the gamut of emotion, lifting you up and sometimes causing you to burst into tears.  it is the story of heartbreak and, justice and, ultimately, forgiveness told by a master storyteller. 
I see it as a major motion picture, a blockbuster of a movie that will linger. I hope Cicada receives all the attention it so richly deserves. I understand the author has several more novels somewhere in the pipeline. If they’re anywhere close to being as good as this one, we’re seeing the birth of a major American writer.
A definite 5 Star read.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A magical thriller

One reviewer writes that The Prodigal’s Foole is “X-men plus Harry Potter for adults”, which I think is pretty accurate. Instead of Potter, we have Symon Bryson, Father Bill, the twins Eden and Eve, Symon’s friend Aaron, a native American shaman named Janice, Father Peter, and Monsignor Charles DuBarry as the good guys, Symon’s old nemesis Cardinal Maguire as questionable, and a host of demons on the other side who have kidnapped the Monsignor, bringing Symon back from a ten year self-imposed exile in Dublin. To top it off, the FBI is involved.
What has caused all this havoc? That takes us back ten years to .... you’ll have to read the rest of this fascinating, fast-paced novel to find out. There is plenty of magic here, spells to cast and zombies and devils to dispose of. And a sequel in the works that I’ll be looking for. 

R. B. Wood is an excellent story-teller, and this is a wonderfully fast-paced read.
A clear 5 start for this one.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

An intriguing and spellbinding war story

In 1975, the Soviet Union and Communist China lay aside their differences and form an alliance. Their goal: to take over all of Europe and England. By early summer, 1980, “the combined Communist forces are poised for the initial assault.” From there, the action begins, and it is full-scale war, with all the explosiveness, viciousness and suspense that one expects, especially after an active Resistance movement is organized. Some of the scenes are gut-wrenching.
But the war story isn’t the only story. The other story, the underlying story, is that of the author himself, who discovers the manuscript in an old box file he hasn’t opened in thirty years, and comments on his novel and his editing of it between each chapter. As an author myself, as well as a devourer of books, I found this fascinating, almost like reading a second novel, one the “warp“ and the other the “woof” of the whole. 
What makes this so fascinating and so important is that this is the way we experience life, the warp of life and the woof of memory, interwoven into our daily lives.
My hat is off to Brendan Gisby, the author of several wonderful books,of which this is the latest. You have a gem here Mr. Gisby.

A definite 5 star read. 

"Milkshake" -- a surprising, spellbinding international thriller

On the face of it, “Milkshake” looks like a bucolic novel set in a pleasant rural countryside with dairy farms and tidy villages. But that it definitely isn’t. 

The year is 2002, the story opens with David and Katherine Turner waiting  to board their flight from England to New Zealand, where they have decided to emigrate to get away from the traumas related to the events of the previous September.
Far from the “snoozer” I thought this book would be, I found myself immersed in a fast-pace thriller involving an international plot to turn New Zealand into a slave-labor camp feeding the biofuel needs of one of the world’s “great” powers. Well thought-out, well-plotted and very well written, it kept me engrossed from the first paragraph to the final word. 
What can tiny, isolated New Zealand do to thwart this major power’s hunger? As one of the characters says in the book,"If my people ever find the truth of what's going on here, believe me it's easier for a bee to annoy an eagle than it is for an eagle to annoy a bee." And annoy the eagle they do.
Matt Hammond is definitely a writer to watch.
I give it 5 stars.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

One of the funniest books I've read in a long time

Suzanne Adams’ “Line ‘Em Up!” is a wonderfully comedic novel about a group of Country-Western line dancing-crazed people in England. The characters -- Bill and Gina, Betty and Jack and their daughter Claudine, and all the others -- are right out of a good British sitcom, and Suzanne Adams exploits their foibles and trip-ups like a pro. I’ve seldom laughed so much or so heartily at the antics of the wonderful collection of characters Suzanne Adams has brought together in so amusing a way.
Yet there is a darker element in this book, too, and that is murder. There seems to be a serial killer around, and he (or she) is killing women who have some connection to the dance group. Could it be someone close to the dance group? The question is never answered because the murders are never solved. Does this mean that Ms. Adams has a sequel planned? I hope so, because if there’s a down side to Line ‘Em Up! it’s that readers are left frustrated by not knowing (1) who the killer or killers are, and (2) why murders were introduced without some effort to solve the crimes. Other than that, Line ‘Em Up! is a great read.
I give it 4 stars. It’s available in paperback and Kindle from and 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Write on Wednesdays

Teaser #1 for this week, "Line 'Em Up", by Suzanne Adams.

Every night upon retiring, Bill would lock the key ring with its many charges in his bedside drawer. This, in turn, he locked and double-checked to be quite sure it was secure before he placed the drawer key under his pillow. A spare key for that was always locked in his bureau drawer and a spare for that key was lodged with his mother.
Bill could lose huge chunks of time obsessing over his keys, fingering the keys, clipping and unclipping the ring from his trouser belt-loop, and unwittingly at times, providing others with the unnerving sight of the furry phallus dangling from beneath his jacket. Bill selected belt-loops seemingly at random.

Teaser #2, "Grandfather and the Raven"

"If you ever do that again," Sir Raven said from his perch on grandfather's left shoulder as they walked  home, "please warn me."

"Why is that?"

"Because if you do it without warning me, I might drop a load down your back. It was so loud I nearly fell off the lamp post," he laughed. "You scared the wits out of that poor guy."

"That's not all I scared out of him," grandfather replied, smiling.

"True," laughed Sir Raven. "I'll bet his insides  haven't been that clean since he first came out of the egg."

"George Polley has created another timeless character that enters into a fantastical relationship with a raven. Or is the raven the timeless character? George entices the reader to view this usual relationship from within. The raven has much to teach all of us. These stories are beautiful, thoughtful, and wonderfully crafted."  -- Barry North, Seattle


Sunday, February 12, 2012

A ghostly tale of mystery, intrigue, murder and eccentric royals.

If you enjoy ghost stories, you will enjoy this one by Tim Roux, a masterfully told tale about a reluctant psychic named Paul Lambert, a ghost named Alice,  assorted other ghosts, and a chateau inhabited by an eccentric British Earl (the Earl of Affligem), his family, a mob of hangers-on and the chateaux’s original royal family, who do not enjoy the crowd and all their noise at all. And if all this isn’t enough to hold your interest, there is also a serial killer to catch
It’s Alice who is the most interesting ghost, because she falls in love with Paul (very frustrating for both)and badly wants to expose her killer. And this is where Roux does something very, very interesting: Alice, you see, is the young French woman Alice Picard in Tim Roux’s novel Little Fingers, who elopes with Mary to Spain and never returns. I’ve wondered whatever happened to Alice, and now I know. The chief suspect for her murderer is, she says, her ill-tempered and abusive father who was enraged at her because she had taken up with Mary. But Alice isn’t the only character from Little Fingers that shows up here. Retired police inspector John is also here.
If you’re looking for a ghost story that’s packed with ghosts and drama, pick this one up, take it home, and enjoy it.
One final comment: I’m not convinced that most of the characters in the novel aren’t really ghosts. That’s a mystery for you to solve.
An easy 5 star read. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A gem of a movie, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

When I first read Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a couple of years or so ago, one of the first thoughts I had was what a great movie it would make. All the right ingredients were there: Fast-paced thriller, family drama, a deeply scarred young woman (Lisbeth Salander), a brilliant and flawed investigative reporter (Mikael Blomkvist). But what really intrigued me was what a movie might do with Lisbeth Salander, whom official society has labeled incompetent and in need of a guardian. 
I was right about its movie potential. Directed by David Fincher from a screenplay by Steven Zaillian, a dark ambient soundtrack by Trent Raznor and Atticus Ross and starring Daniel Craig & Rooney Mara in the roles of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the movie is an absolute gem. The music pulses, throbs, seduces and, in the final song, “Is your love strong enough”, expresses the ache in Lisbeth’s heart for someone whose love is strong enough to love her, and does it in a way that will bring tears to your eyes as it did mine.
Some people have said the movie is better than the book. Though they are quite different, I don’t agree that the movie is better. What Steven Zaillian’s screenplay does is pull the core drama of Larsson’s massive novel and condenses it into a dramatic masterpiece that takes two hours and thirty-eight minutes to watch. The novel is far more complex and massive than the story that revolves around the Vanger family.
I would love to see a movie of Lisbeth’s story as it is told in the second and third books of Larsson’s millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Lisbeth Salander is one of the strongest and most intriguing women in fiction; definitely not one you want to get on the wrong side of.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a definite 5 star movie. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t show up among this year’s Oscar nominees. If you haven't  yet seen it, do. And do not leave until all of the credits have scrolled through, because the final song, "Is your love strong enough" is such a perfect finale, connected to the heart of that last poignant scene when Lisbeth throws away her gift to Mikael that it will bring tears to your eyes as it did mine.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Israel, 'an outpost of civilization against barbarism'

"The description of Israel as 'the only democracy in the Middle East' has been received wisdom in the Wes for decades. The idea of Israel as 'one of us', a home for Western values in a region of religious extremism and political instability, is voiced and understood by politicians, journalists, analysts,and the general public... [T]he conception of Israel's status as regionally anomalous -- a liberal,  parliamentary democracy -- remains unshaken. When President Barack Obama can call Israel a 'small nation' in a 'tough neighbourhood', remarkably little has chained since Theodor Herzl, the father of political Zionism, wrote in 1896 that a jewish state in Palestine would be 'an outpost of civilization against barbarism' (from the Introduction).
Yet, as Ben White so ably demonstrates, nothing could be further from the truth. From the beginning, when European Zionists first began to enter it, Palestine was considered an "empty" land. In 1902, Max Nordau, co-founder of the World Zionist Organization, wrote that Zionists desired "to irrigate with their sweat and to till with their hands a country that is today a desert, until it again becomes the blooming garden it once was." Nothing could have been further from on the ground reality. Palestine was full of productive farms, busy cities and thriving trade. Seeing the land as "empty" "was not a  matter of ignorance of the Arab population but a question of European chauvinism." "Palestine at the time of first Zionist settlement was not empty of people, but of people deemed worthy by Europeans of controlling their own country." This was not traditional European (and by extension, American) chauvinistic conquest: when you desire something, go in and take it, the natives be damned. With that in mind, literally anything is permissible. 
This is not the narrative I grew up with, which depicted Israel as a brave nation surrounded by bitter enemies who wished to erase it from the earth, and the Israeli people and their leaders as heroic defenders of democracy and human rights. As Ben White ably shows, little could be further from the truth. 

Citing Israel's own laws and policies, White shows that, from the beginning, Israel has treated Palestinians -- including its own Palestinian citizens -- as if they are invisible and, as invisible, have no rights. Citing chapter and verse from Israeli laws and policies, he shows how Palestinians are discriminated against in every way imaginable, and I am not exaggerating in saying that. In the Occupied Territories and Gaza, it is worse and is much more publicized. Within Israel itself, it really isn't any better. In the Galilee and the Negev, Palestinians are pushed aside, their homes demolished in Israel's push to "Judaize" the areas -- culturally "drown" the Negev and Galilee with Jewish residents; in the Occupied Territories they are called "settlers" -- in order to support Israel's as a Jewish state.

The problem with this is that it negates Israel's claim of being a democracy, as it is not a state of all its citizens. (Legally, non-Jews are second-class citizens.) Far from the paradise it is presented as being, reality shows Israel an aggressive, openly racist, and increasingly paranoid nation that defends itself by creating more oppressive laws and violent behavior toward Palestinians in Israel itself and in the Occupied Territories. Israel is, and has been, a contradiction of Herzl's contention that a Jewish nation in Palestine would be "an outpost of civilization against barbarism". What Israel has come to resemble is barbarism itself. 
White's book has already garnered charges of "anti-Semitism" and White charged with being an "anti-Semite", a charge routinely made against all critics of Israel. Israeli journalist Yaniv Halili, for instance, claims the book "presents a blatant anti-Israel approach". It doesn't at all. What it does, and does thoroughly, is cite the sources, which are unimpeachable. Palestinians in Israel may not be a comfortable book to read, but it is an important one, a necessary antidote to all the propaganda and alarmist accusations of anti-Semitism. What Ben White has done, and done very well in this book is reveal the chauvinism and cruelty of the modern State of Israel in all its ugliness.  
A final note: It seems to me that Israel's behavior towards the Palestinian people, which it justifies in terms of "security needs", is itself anti-Semitic for the simple reason that it ignores and denies the brutal behavior that is common knowledge everywhere. In justifying behavior that decent people regard as reprehensible, Israel paints a negative picture of what Jewish people and their culture are like. And that is offensive and wrong.  

If Israel really wishes to rid the world of anti-Semitism and enjoy life as a respected member of the world community of nations, then it must change its behavior. Accusing people who point it  out of anti-Semitism only makes the problem worse.
A 5 star review.