Thursday, July 09, 2009

tablet contributor's vicious attack on novelist claire messud over palfest

The latest issue of Asians in Media magazine has a short piece on 'The Jewish Queens of Bollywood' referencing a podcast in Tablet Magazine - a new (or at least renamed) online US-based Jewish publication, not to be confused with the 169-year-old London-based Catholic publication The Tablet.

AIM reports: Did you know that there was a time when Jewish women were among the leading ladies of Bollywood? No, neither did we. But there was an era when Baghdadi Jewish families who had emigrated to India starred in Bollywood.

The American online Jewish magazine, Tablet, explores:

Rose Ezra. Ruby Myers. Farhat Ezekiel Nadira. From the earliest years of Bollywood, these and other Jewish actresses garnered starring roles. And while they may have looked somewhat exotic to moviegoers, they came from Baghdadi Jewish families who had been living in India for decades. Reporter Eric Molinsky speaks to film scholars, as well as friends and relatives of these once-beloved but now mostly forgotten stars of Indian cinema, to find out how they became the “go-to girls” for leading female roles in the 1920s, ’30s, and beyond.

The topic was fascinating to me - especially as I have met in London some of the Jews of Iraqi origin whose ancestors settled in India. In the podcast Eric Molinksy interviews film scholars, and friends and family of the Indian Jewish actresses. I could discern some parallels with the story of Jews in the world of music in Iraq, including the late Saleh al-Kuwaity whose 100th birthday was celebrated with a conference and concert in London six months ago.

Visting the Tablet website gave me a chance to have a look around an American Jewish general interest publication which was launched last month under the slogan "A New Look at Jewish Life" as the successor magazine to Nextbook. Its editor Alana Newhouse is former cultural editor of New York Jewish weekly The Forward. Tablet has a lot of interesting and provocative content: for example 36-year-old playwright David Adjmi interviewed on his Syrian-Jewish roots and on the Syrian-Jewish community in New York, which he explores in his new play 'Stunnning'. In the Scroll section of op-ed pieces, there is a light piece on 'Is Jon Stewart a prophet' - and a vicious attack by Michael Weiss on the distinguished novelist Claire Messud for her recent article in the Boston Globe 'Walking Miles in Palestinian Feet' based on her participation in the Palestine Festival of Literature (Palfest).
A sample from Weiss's piece:
Until recently, British author Claire Messud had only written about Palestine as a vogue political issue that interrupts—but remunerates—the life of quiet contemplation being fitfully led by Murray Thwaite, the liberal newspaper columnist who features prominently in her debut novel, The Emperor’s Children...Now Messud’s attentions have returned to the Middle East, this time with a column in the Boston Globe recounting her recent very unpleasant time in Israel and the West Bank. Messud and a handful of other writers from around the world had traveled to Jerusalem to attend Palestine Festival of Literature, originally scheduled to take place at the Palestine National Theater—that is, until event was relocated, along with its attendees, all bedecked in their evening wear and spilling their cocktails over the rocky terrain, by “machine-gun toting Israeli soldiers in flak jackets. Weiss dismisses Messud's article as a monument to cant and banality...her background coloration scans like some Fodor’s Guide to Orientalist Cliché":

Contrary to Weiss' assertion, 'The Emperor's Children', longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2006, is far from being Messud's "debut novel". That was 'When the World was Steady' , nominated for the PEN/Faulkner award, which appeared in 1995. It was followed by 'The Last Life' (1999) and 'The Hunters' (2001).

Weiss quotes approvingly from a blog by The New Republic's editor in chief Marty Peretz on Messud's article. Weiss notes that Messud's husband, the critic James Wood, was Peretz's "star book critic" on TNR before he graduated to the New York Review of Books. Peretz's intemperate and vulgar attack on Messud ranges much wider than her article on Palfest. Along the way he takes in Messud's introduction to the reissue a few years ago by Everyman's Library of four early novels by Irene Nemirovsky, the French-Jewish writer who converted to Catholicism but died in Auschwitz.

For another view of PalFest by someone who was in Jerusalem at the time although not at the festival, and who mentions Messud and praises 'The Emperor's Children', see Alex Stein's piece posted on Harry's Place.

Messud's father was a French pied noir who grew up in Algeria. Her most recent published work is a short story in the New York Review of Books. There is also a podcast of her reading the story.

No comments: