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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Jane's book left me so dismayed,
She's certainly drunk the Kool-Aid.
The bias is clear,
The agenda is dear,
To the heart of a liberal Crusade.


(I added this text after people sent comments. I am clarifiying the chronology for those who posted comments before I further clarified my perspective.)

I suppose one snarky comment deserves another (addressing one comment received).

I think it’s because I disagree with a couple of popular of ideas that are often simplistically presented to children.

One of these ideas is that the sin of anti-Semitism, undoubtedly evident within certain Christian circles, was responsible (perhaps even entirely responsible) for the rise of the Nazi party or the motivation to support the Nazi’s genocidal campaigns. While anti-Semitism is a grave sin that must be acknowledged, opposed and repudiated, I don’t believe that the Nazi’s ideology and quest for power is rooted solely or primarily in the mistreatment of Jews by any one or more indviduals acting in accord with the moral precepts of Christianity or any other religious group for that matter.

The second idea that I disagree with is that to treat homosexuals with dignity and compassion it is necessary to believe that acts of sodomy are, at the very least, morally neutral and preferably even “healthy”.

I know that opposing these two fashionable ideas will not be appreciated by many, perhaps even the occasional reader of this blog. It’s an interesting time we live in. It’s OK to influence other people’s young children with your view of human sexuality, but when parents balk, they are “deniers of the holocaust.”

How ironic. The story starts with what I call caricatures of characters. The girl who writes for the alternative newspaper is the epitome of kindness and compassion. She’s even understanding of her shallow, mean sisters who are disapproving of her. Don’t people who like the book want to imitate her? Or are we only supposed to imitate the way she thinks?

Having said this, justice requires that I give credit where it is due, Briar Rose is a beautiful story in many ways and well-told. Unfortunately, it also contains a tendentious point-of-view that I found to be as unpleasant as it is erroneous.

For example, can someone can someone please point me to where the Catholic Church taught that it is forbidden for a Catholic to attend Jewish synagogues? Spare the obligatory references to St. John Chrysostom, his anti-Semitic rants have never been considered representative of the Catholic Church’s teaching.

Considering that the book’s first introduction to Polish Catholics describes them as nervousness to be attending a (gasp!) Jewish funeral, speaks volumes. Unfortunately, this portrayal suggests the utterly false notion that the Catholic Church was at least part of an anti-Semitic bias, where else would the Polish Catholics learn this bigotry? While the author might be entitled to her own opinion (however misinformed) she may not be entitled to her own facts.

Fortunately, the truth re the Catholic Church in Poland, Germany and through-out the world during the reign of the Nazis has been thoroughly documented. Contrary to what is suggested in the book, the Church was a courageous defender of the Jews as evidenced by the many sons and daughters who were killed while protecting both Jews and other persecuted minorities (including large numbers of Catholics) during the Nazi’s reign of terror.

The authoritative voice of the Church at the time was Pope Pius. He saved more Jews than Oscar Schindler hoped to by far, clearly taught anti-Semitism as a sin, and was praised, rightly and widely by the Jews of his day. The modern world generally spills ink only to vilify, lie and slander this man. I can only grasp their disrespect to the opinion of the Jews of his time, whose voice they flatly refuse to listen to, as a biased hatred. It is ironic considering the topic of the book.

Look at this lady - Let us never forget!
The world hasn't just become' s always been wicked. The prize doesn't always go to the most deserving.

Irena Sendler

There recently was a death of a 98 year-old lady named Irena.

During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist.

She had an 'ulterior motive'.

She KNEW what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews (being German).

Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack, (for larger kids).

She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto.

The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.

During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants.

She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard.

After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family.

Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She was not selected.
President Obama won one year before becoming President for his work as a community organizer for ACORN
Al Gore won also --- for a slide show on Global Warming.

It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended.

This is in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated!

Now, more than ever, with Iran , and others, claiming the HOLOCAUST to be 'a myth'.

It's imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.

Someone (else) should forward this to Jane Yolen. She could do justice to the story if so inspired...


janeyolen August 6, 2011 at 10:13 PM  

I have to assume this snarky reviewer is a Holocaust denier.

Jane Yolen, winner Regina Medal from the
Catholic Library Assn

Mom Carter August 7, 2011 at 6:08 AM  

If you like "retold" fairy tales, try The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman. An excellent read and should earn a high safety rating. Ms. Doman has written several such modernized fairy tales. So far I've only read one, but the rest are being delivered from Amazon soon!

Doria August 7, 2011 at 6:51 AM  

Oh how fun, a "review" in limerick form! Except, this particular limerick doesn't make any effort to show or prove any particular point. What Kool-Aid is being referred to? Which bias, and toward what view point? How is this book representative of a liberal crusade? Let me offer my own take.

First off, a limerick:

In the mood for a book that's well-written?
Not concerned with how politics fit in?
Try Yolen's Briar Rose,
And see how it goes,
With her fine-honed prose you'll be smitten.

Now, an actual review:

I read this book for the first time a few months ago, and was struck by the clear prose, and the binary storyline which revealed itself inch by inch, as part of an unwinding double tapestry of pain intermingled with hope. That is to say, Yolen follows two storylines simultaneously, at an un-rushed pace.

One is that of a young woman reporter who is trying to track down her grandmother's history; the second is that of the grandmother as a young woman. The grandmother happens to be a survivor of the holocaust, with its attendant horrors and failings of humanity. However, sparks of real human goodness and love (in both women's lives) are revealed and nurtured into flames.

I was grateful for Yolen's steady pace; when dealing with this kind of subject matter, it is hard to take too much at a time, and one needs the balm of human empathy (even in literary form) to balance the horror of what people are willing to perpetrate against others. There is, among some writers, a temptation to pour forth the horror in a fast red gush, but I don't feel our understanding is enhanced by being hurriedly and luridly brutalized.

I could add more, but I don't want to add "spoiler" content for those who haven't had the chance to read this excellent book. For those with a mere prurient interest in violence and gore, Briar Rose will prove unsatisfying. I highly recommend it, and feel that it is appropriate for teen readers, and those who want to learn more about the holocaust from both a historical and humanistic viewpoint.

Doria August 10, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Nancy Piccione August 15, 2011 at 2:21 PM  

I had it from the library in the last year and couldn't even finish it, much less write about it. I can't even recall why now, but glad to know it's not worth a second look.

Psmith,  August 28, 2011 at 6:55 PM  

I have not read this book but my sister did. She said it was making her physically sick and she is the girl who dissects frogs for FUN!!! Incidentally, I love the Regina Doman books; THEY are worthwhile reads!

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