Monday, February 21, 2011

The Suggestion of Historical Parallels Can Be Tricky

In my latest novel, The Little Rock Messenger, set in 1956, a young African-American boy becomes a reluctant messenger-courier for an Austrian emigre he meets on a Greyhound bus trip.  The man is headed for Atlanta to deliver personal items to a young Jewish woman whose family perished in the Holocaust.  Unfortunately, he dies before he can complete his mission, but before he does, he entrusts the young boy to act for him. 

As I wrote the story, which I intended to be as much action-driven as character-driven, I began to see that I was developing a subtext suggesting the parallel plight of blacks and Jews who have been, and to some degree continue to be, victims of racial and cultural bigotry.  There was nothing ironic intended in my narrative, but the message is there nonetheless.  Are there perfect parallels in their histories?  Of course not.  Arguments can be made that societal integration has been much easier for the Jew.  And yet there was the Holocaust, and there continues to be anti-semitism in many areas of the world, most prominently displayed in the middle east. 

To me this is why writing continues to be a mystery.  A story is never created like a photograph, where all elements of a setting are known and understood beforehand.  A story is born through a process - sometimes grueling and time-consuming, sometimes less so - and during that process, characters and situations can turn in unforeseen ways, surprising not only the reader, but often the writer as well.       

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