Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: " The Obsidian Blade " by Pete Hautman



So I have been thinking about this book/book review non stop since I posted it a few days ago. After thinking long and hard, I made a difficult decision (for me anyway) and removed the original review from the site. As much as I told myself to leave it alone and move on, I just couldn't. I'm happy to  share my opinions and feelings with you if you are interested in knowing why.

As many of you know (or now will know), the Gang is Jewish. Our religion doesn't, or shouldn't really affect much at all as far as our site, our reviews, or whatever. Our site is for book reviews, and it will stay that way. However, religion is part of this book and therefore I want to address it a bit. I have seen other reviews of this book discuss religion as well. Perhaps not the same way that I will, but religion is obviously something on the surface here.

Here is my issue- There were some comments made regarding Jews that I have read over and over and over again and couldn't figure out what the intention was or why. In other words, I feel like they were not really any part of the story at all and could very easily have been left out. Not sure what the author's intent was. It is not my place to tell someone what to write, but regardless, they still bothered me. I was thinking maybe the author was Jewish himself and for some strange reason thought it would be "ok" to write certain things that could potentially be crossing a line if he were not Jewish. Then I got to thinking about that some more and realized it doesn't really matter what he is, I still feel the same. In fact, I would think if he is Jewish, all the more reason to have thought a bit harder about what he was writing, known better and just done without those part in the book. In my strong opinion, the parts and comments I am referring to, absolutely would have had no impact on the book whatsoever if not included. NONE.

 I am going to first put here a few short quotes from the book. The first one of the handful bothered me a bit more than the others. Keep in mind, if you have not read the book or the other parts I am referring to, this may not seem like much to you. However, the more I re-read these parts, the more I feel offended. In my opinion, the more I read this stuff, the more I see racism and stereotyping. Maybe you can see what I see, maybe you can't. But I do. I  can only hope that I am respected for my own feelings and opinions and they are not held against me.

Here are a few lines quoted from earlier in the book that just rubbed me the wrong way, and it was not just the references to Jewish people that bothered me as you will see. 
"When I was a girl — I must have been six or seven — I remember walking home from school one day when two big black men came up the road.” 
“You mean like African Americans?"
“No, but they had black hair and black beards and they were wearing black suits. I thought they were Amish, so I wasn’t afraid." 

I really didn't understand the point of that reference at all. What was the reason for the "big black men?" Had they actually been "African Americans" that she was referring to as "big black men," and not the Amish people that she thought they were, would she still have not been "afraid?" I don't know what the intention here was, but regardless, I don't like it AT ALL. Make no mistake about it, I am not trying to make assumptions as to what the author was getting at, if anything at all. What I am saying is that even the thoughts that are in my own mind could have AND should have easily been prevented.

Now, I am no professional author by any stretch, but I think it could have been JUST as effective if written as such:
"When I was a girl — I must have been six or seven — I remember walking home from school one day when two really big men dressed in all black came up the road. They had black hair and black beards and they were wearing black suits." 
Here are two more separate quotes referring to these "big black men":
"He comes stumbling out onto the street, a big bearded guy dressed in a long black wool coat and a black hat even though it was about ninety degrees out, and he was talking really fast in some language I’d never heard before."

“He just ran off. I figured from the hat and coat that he was Amish or something, or maybe one of those Jews like they have in New York that dress like the Amish."

Finally, here is the bigger passage that I had to re-read over and over again, hoping each time that I felt differently. Sadly, I did not.

“I took your mother to the Medicants to be cured — to the very people who allowed the Plague to take root. I did not know any better. The Medicants could not help her. I thought her dead, but later I learned that they gave her to the Boggsians.”

“Boggsians . . .” Tucker remembered Awn saying something about Boggsians being the builders of the diskos. She had called them Amish Jews.

“Yes, Boggsians. Unholy heretics. They command powerful digital technologies, and sell to any who can pay. They could not restore your mother, so they destroyed her.”

“But . . . she’s not dead.”

“I fear she is, but she was reborn. I do not know what digital witchery the Boggsians employed, nor why, but the woman you met in our home was raised as a Pure Girl by the Lah Sept. She is Emily, but she is not our Emily — she is the Lamb Emma. I do not account for it, but I accept the blessing of her presence.”

What really bothers me is that this is being marketed as a YA/Middle Grade book. I definitely thought that if one of my girls read this, without a doubt, it would bother them to some extent. I put this theory to the test WITHOUT adding my bias and let the girls read these and tell me how they felt. I did not tell them at all why they were reading these clips or what my feelings or opinions were. Also, I made them read a few pages out of the book per each quote, so I was not singling out the targets. I tried to make my experiment as fair and neutral as I could. I genuinely wanted THEIR opinions. Sure enough, both of my girls reacted as I had predicted and  one asked me, "Why would someone write that stuff" and the other said, "That's really obnoxious" and "I guess this guy doesn't like Jewish people." Not that I was thrilled about it at all, but that gave me some minor sense of reassurance for how I was feeling, like my thoughts weren't THAT out of line and far fetched. 

 Perhaps it is because I am Jewish that it bothered me so much. Perhaps if I was not, I may have just read right through this stuff without giving it a second look or thought. I really won't know for sure. However, I know for a fact that even if I was not Jewish, I would find the phrase "one of those Jews" at least somewhat offensiveWithout a doubt, no matter what religion I was, as a parent I would not want my kids reading anything that depicted ANY group of people in ANY derogatory/racist manner. I'm assuming for the majority of parents, that is just a given. Now granted, I understand that in many cases, this stuff can't be prevented. It's just our reality. I get that all too well. At that point, I believe educating your children the best you can about racism, anti-semitism, etc. comes into play. They will read, hear, see, and unfortunately experience plenty that I wish they didn't have to. It's a part of life and to think any different is foolish. As any parent has I am sure, I have accepted that fact- long ago, back when I was a child myself. It doesn't mean we can not be upset by it, or try to minimize it as much as possible. Reading it in a YA/FIC/FANTASY book that is available basically everywhere and anywhere for children to get their hands on, is not something I can accept. Not when it is absolutely unnecessary and very simply avoidable. This is why I felt it necessary to talk about. 

Furthermore, I guess the best way to put it is that I am disappointed in everyone who had the opportunity to preview this book before it was finalized and sent to print. I am assuming the norm here- friends and family, reading groups, publishing people, etc. Especially knowing it would be marketed as a Kids/YA read. Nobody caught any of this stuff at all except me? I have a hard time accepting that. Was it overlooked? Did it maybe seem ok? Could it be possible they were that much of a necessity to the story that even a subtle mention of "perhaps SOME of these words and thoughts may be better off left out" was not even considered? If that is true, then in my strong opinion, a major disservice was being done to both the author and the future readers.

I am not saying that all material which can potentially be found offensive by anyone be edited out of every book. Not at all. I have more sense than that. We are reading a work of fiction here, which I am very aware of. What I am saying, is that some material and/or references, fiction or not, may potentially cross a line, especially if it is totally irrelevant to the story. In my opinion, it is that type of material which should be reviewed and weighed out for it's overall relevancy to the book's storyline, characters, etc. before it makes the final cut. Again, I am not saying EVERYTHING that may be found offensive to someone be cut, or even reviewed. Let's be real here.  For a minute- I am going to assume something, which I never like to do but what the heck... as adults, we know what is pretty much ok and what may possibly need some reconsidering or a second look. At least I would hope so. It's pretty much the difference between right and wrong. I believe nowadays, that this concept is taught in pre-school. 

Let me ask you this, and be brutally honest-- did the quote I re-wrote above from the original  regarding the African Americans really change anything at all that would have made any difference in that sentence, or the story at all? In my opinion, not one bit. And for those who have not read the book and still are not sure, take my word for it, African Americans are not part of the story line and in fact, just going by memory, I don't even think there is any further mention at all. Just that one, single reference. I feel that with this particular book, that process of reviewing certain material appears to have been overlooked for some reason. As well, I believe strongly that omitting these references would have had absolutely NO effect on the story AT ALL. I also believe that if you have read this book, you probably would agree with me on that aspect. I keep reminding myself that again, this book is marketed for children.

I really want anyone reading this to know that I am not writing this with any intentions of getting into any discussions or debates with anyone here about religion or racism or anything like that. Neither do I want to upset or anger anyone. I am simply expressing my personal thoughts, opinions, and feelings. We all have feelings and opinions regarding certain issues, which may differ from others. I respect that and hope you do as well. 

As I said in the original review, I'd love an opportunity to discuss my feelings and opinions with the author. Mr. Hautman, if you are out there and are interested, don't hesitate to reach out.



  1. I wasn't fond of the religion part either, but I'm still pretty interested in seeing some more of the series.

  2. Any group that has been attacked and abused, as the Jews have been, can be understandably hyper-alert to offense. True of Irish, Native Americans, African Americans, and Mormons, as well. It becomes a matter of survival to notice signs of discrimination. So, you are right to be offended by the language, which was certainly clumsy and ill-conceived, but please recognize the blithely innocent main-stream ignorance of many people, including me, who might not notice a possible sinister reading of the material. (Thoughtless remarks have given me, an Irish Catholic, pain, and that is sans the widespread discrimination that Jewish people endure. As I said, Jews have more reason to be concerned about possible sub-texts.)
    This is not to say such language should pass unchallenged. But please do not assume that it was necessarily meant as a deliberate insult. I doubt, from my own gut response, that it was.
    I apologize, if in my ignorance I have misunderstood.

  3. What important most is we respect each other's religion and most of all we respect each other. This book seems interesting. I want to read this to better understand the whole story. Thanks for the post!

  4. Hi Dave,

    I just ran across your comments on The Obsidian Blade. I’ve been taking some heat from Christian evangelicals, but yours is the first item I’ve seen suggesting that I’ve been insensitive to Jews. It may be true—I am not the most politic, sensitive guy—although the Amish, the Christians, and members of the medical professions probably have even greater cause for complaint.

    I won’t try to argue you out of your reactions to the book—clearly, your response is honest and heartfelt, and I appreciate you taking the book seriously enough to care about what impact if might have. But I’d like to say a couple of things about why I wrote what I wrote.

    The Obsidian Blade, as you know, is the first book in The Klaatu Diskos trilogy. Much of the first book sets up the story and themes of books two and three. The “Boggsians,” who show some superficial resemblance to both the Amish and Hasidic Jews in Book One, play a much larger role in the next two books. They are a sort of hybrid of the two cultures that exist thousands of years from now in an imagined sci-fi future. The second book contains some explanatory backstory (the Boggsian “sect” was founded by an Amish apostate who was taken in by a Hasidic family). I used the Amish and the Jews because, in part, I am interested in the parallels in the ways these two very different cultures relate to technology, and in part because of their success in insulating themselves from much of mainstream society while continuing to thrive within it. The fact that they share some fashion quirks and language similarities (Yiddish and “Pennsylvania Dutch” are closely related) is merely an interesting coincidence that I chose to exploit.

    I can’t promise that the next two books will alleviate your concerns—likely they will not, as the Boggsians do not come off looking all that sympathetic in the end. I just wanted to let you know that my references to Jews in The Obsidian Blade were neither spurious nor malicious—they are essential to the story that follows.

    For good or ill, a lot of thought went into these books. Yes, I knew that some people would be offended by parts of the story (particularly the crucifixion scene). I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. Some of the best books I’ve ever read have managed to frighten and enrage me at times. At the very least, such things lead to healthy discussion, such as that which you had with your daughters.

    Thank you for taking my book seriously, and for your thoughtful remarks.

    Pete Hautman

    “Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.” — Bertrand Russell