Ear­li­er this week, Mary Glick­man shared what makes writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion work for her. With the upcom­ing release of her new nov­el An Undis­turbed Peace, Mary is blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

In the canon of Chris­t­ian phi­los­o­phy, it is clear that both Thomas Aquinas and Augus­tine described the Jews as wit­ness­es to his­to­ry.” These men con­sid­ered Jew­ish exis­tence a vital part of God’s plan. They viewed Jews as eter­nal out­liers, dis­persed through­out the world, func­tion­ing as sacred his­to­ri­ans, designed to suf­fer, digest, and report on the adven­tures and mis­ad­ven­tures of both Chris­t­ian and pagan nar­ra­tives. As a Jew, a Jew who writes his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, their the­sis works for me. But there’s anoth­er, a more Jew­ish take on his­to­ry and memory.

The pub­lic mem­o­ry is exceed­ing­ly short. I’ve men­tioned in the past on these very pages that it aston­ish­es me that peo­ple are for­get­ful of his­to­ry as recent as fifty years in the past, let alone one hun­dred. I’ve met Jew­ish and gen­tile indi­vid­u­als who are vig­i­lant, intense on the issue of Amer­i­can racism, who have nev­er heard of the White Cit­i­zens Coun­cils of the 50s — I’m talk­ing about South­ern­ers whose par­ents lived through the Civ­il Rights ter­ror in ways North­ern­ers could nev­er imag­ine, even those brave souls who spent a few weeks of their sum­mers as vot­er reg­is­tra­tion work­ers dur­ing their stu­dent years. Like­wise, non-Jews are poor­ly informed of old world pogroms and of the pre-Nazi, mil­len­nia-long flight of state­less Jews mur­dered en masse or hound­ed from coun­try to coun­try by state spon­sored antisemites. 

In my most recent nov­el, An Undis­turbed Peace, I empha­size a curi­ous cor­re­spon­dence between the Jew­ish and Native Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence, a com­par­i­son of the his­to­ry of both peo­ples. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the cat­a­logue of events afflict­ing Native Amer­i­cans before the Trail of Tears is as obscured in mod­ern mem­o­ry as the two thou­sand years of the Jew­ish Dias­po­ra and oppres­sion before World War II. I’ve been told over and over by advance read­ers of the nov­el, I nev­er knew about that,” or Sure­ly, you made this part up,” when all I’ve done is take fleshed out char­ac­ters and plopped them into the seamy caul­dron of his­tor­i­cal fact. 

Many of my fel­low authors have cho­sen the Holo­caust as sub­ject, in the hon­or­able and nec­es­sary effort to make sure the world nev­er for­gets. I find I can­not go there. The idea intim­i­dates. The Holo­caust is a most holy lit­er­ary ground and I fear I may be too pro­fane an author to ren­der it prop­er­ly. I leave works on the Holo­caust to those with a deep famil­ial con­nec­tion or some oth­er hook embed­ded inside their souls that pulls them into that dark, hor­rif­ic time. I respect any cre­ative mind tak­ing up the challenge.

For now, I pre­fer to nev­er for­get, to wit­ness the forces that shaped the world that allowed the Holo­caust to hap­pen. Why was Amer­i­ca so slow to enter World War II? Peo­ple knew or at the very least strong­ly sus­pect­ed what was hap­pen­ing to the Jews of Europe, no mat­ter how they cov­ered their tracks or ratio­nal­ized lat­er on. Was it a hard­ness of nation­al heart fos­tered by a his­to­ry of slav­ery, racial oppres­sion, rapa­cious set­tlers, Native Amer­i­can land-grab and death march? These things are also mat­ters we must nev­er for­get. As Aquinas and Augus­tine knew, there were Jew­ish wit­ness­es all along the way. I plan to do my part in deliv­er­ing their reports.

Mary Glick­man is the author of Home in the Morn­ing, One More Riv­er, and March­ing to Zion. Glick­man was born on the South Shore of Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts, and stud­ied at the Uni­ver­sité de Lyon and Boston Uni­ver­si­ty. She now lives in Seabrook Island, South Carolina.

Relat­ed Content:

Born on the South Shore of Boston, Mary Glick­man is the pro­lif­ic author of South­ern Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal nov­els, includ­ing Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards Final­ist in Fiction’s One More Riv­er and An Undis­turbed Peace, list­ed by South­ern Liv­ing as a best nov­el of 2016. Ain’t No Grave is her sixth nov­el. She lives on Wad­malaw Island, SC, with her husband.