Or Aunt, or cousin, or adopted brother or sister . . . the Gods, you see, have played a great joke on me, one which some of the old Eastern European rabbis I’ve heard of would certainly appreciate.
Some of you might know from previous comments that my past history in this lifetime has not been entirely innocent. When my ex-husband took a strange twist into racism, joining the National Vanguard movement and filling the house with old and new materials on race, genetics, and historical revisionism, I flirted intellectually with each concept as if it were new, re-testing it on its own ground and finding some of them solid, while others – like David Duke’s public declaration that the ancient Greeks were a "Nordic" people – remained good for a roll on the floor laughing. I drew the line at bad manners – which some may be surprised, so did my solidly racialist husband, who was a Virginian first, and would never, EVER be so rude as to express his private opinions out loud to someone who "couldn’t help the way they were born". I absolutely refused to allow my husband’s personal insecurities about his sexuality to come between me and my gay friends, who when push came to shove, mattered more to me than the husband. Nevertheless, I must admit, I have sat down to a civil dinner with David Duke and William Pierce in a public restaurant, and worked one hellacious spell to save the life of a Neo-Nazi dying of a brain tumor. And I rather liked one of the books my ex borrowed from his nasty racialist friends, For My Legionairies, by the Romanian crusader Cornelius Zelia Codreanu.
I liked it so much, in fact, that when I decided to write a novel for sheer pleasure about a young American discovering that he was both a prince and not exactly a werewolf, I decided to set in in Romania. Well, after all, that’s where Transylvania is, these days, although it’s been in Hungary for most of the last thousand years. But it had to be between the wars, because my apprentice adores Steampunk, and that requires wooden biplanes. And I had a good witch-friend from Romania, who taught me a little about their very old-fashioned magic, so that went in. And I had intended, to make it daring and different by being a bit more honest than we usually get, about the political factions and issues leading up to WWII. I mean, it was NOT all heroes and dashing Good against Evil; on the Eastern Front, it looked until September of 1939 like the War was going to be Hitler vs Stalin, with the British and French mainly playing cheerleaders – for Hitler. The essence of export Fascism was nationalism, and Codreanu’s peculiar form, was a deeply mystical Christian nationalism stressing self-sacrifice and prayer(Greek Orthodox Christianity, quite different from American fundies, so don’t confuse them). And I was going to explain Balkan anti-Semitism as the product it was, at the time, of the economic and political strategies that the Jewish community did adopt, for survival and some success on the border between the Austrian and Ottoman empires at the turn of the century. I certainly couldn’t condone mass-murder and genocide, but I thought perhaps I could explain why they got started. If I bothered, because after all, the story is about a young not-quite werewolf.
Ah, but the Gods (or God, if you allow that He has a multiple personality problem) have a sense of humor. Like any writer, I think, I let my stories have a certain amount of control over themselves. I set up certain conditions and characters, decide how I want it all to turn out . . . and see what happens. I meet new people along the way, and they do pretty much what they want to do. The fun is in the surprises, and I learn much of what I learn about life, by talking to people who don’t exist. Which is how I met Yanni Nicolesceu.
Originally, I introduced Yanni for completely incidental purposes. There needed to be a prisoner exchange, and I had to choose someone who would be equal in importance to a General. The major local Communist organizer seemed to qualify. I decided that Yanni was Jewish, for the HISTORICALLY FACTUAL reason that Jews were overrepresented in the original Communist cadres and held far more than their proportional numbers of leadership positions; this was one of the reasons that fascists were anti-Semitic. My own story twisted the message, however. My king, unlike most of the (Hapsburg) monarchs of the time, is a native, nationalist monarch, in conflict with internationalist leaders who are in bed with the Nazis because Romanian internationalists have always looked to the Germans for help and the Germans just happen to be Nazi in 1936. Being anti-German makes him anti-Nazi; then the local Communist is a good populist leader fighting for the Poor and Downtrodden. So, okay, I see it. The King (a feudalist from the back-country) makes a deal with the Communists against his enemies, who in this scheme are the urban capitalist classes intent on modernization. When he wins, the King makes the Communist a noble and the Minister of Labor. Good political deal. Then, I met Yanni.
I decided that Yanni would be a woman because, well, I needed more females in the heavily male cast. Besides, female Communist revolutionaries were also an era-appropriate stereotype. The original Communists, like the original Jacobins, believed in gender equality; funny how that worked out over time, hmmm? So of course, in the next book, Yanni was at court, and female. And she met my little not-quite-a-werewolf prince, and . . . oh, dear. I didn’t expect THAT.
I can’t tell you the story, so I can’t tell you exactly what happened. Suffice it to say, that Yanni is one hell of a woman. I learned from the things she told my prince, that she grew up on the tough side of Iasi, one of the more virulently anti-Semitic cities in Romania. She was the elder daughter of a single mom, a factory worker, and her little brother died young of a disease that could have been treated if they had had the money. She’s seen people hurt, and sick, and suicide from the despair of the Great Depression, and determined to risk and dedicate her life to STOP it from happening. She’s been imprisoned as a young woman, and abused, and she’s come out of it determined not to let it stop her from living life to the hilt, enjoying every precious moment that she can. And when she sees a young man traumatized by his own experience of imprisonment and torture, her immediate impulse is to reach out to him, shake him gently, and show him not just that life goes on, but that he can damned well MAKE it go on, by his own decision not to be beaten.
Yanni is a hero. I didn’t create her. But I do want to be able to introduce her to others to her best advantage. And I don’t know a thing about growing up Jewish in Eastern Europe. While I’ve had Jewish friends in my life, mostly they haven’t talked much about anything different from the standard American Experience. I know basic kosher rules and the slightly more elaborate form you get when the house has been properly purified by a rabbi and you can’t bring anything questionable inside without ruining the ritual purity. I went to an Orthodox temple once for services, but it was early morning, and I was the only woman there; I had to sit alone in this isolated section while my friend and a bunch of older men rattled off their prayers on the other side of the room, and, well, I wasn’t very positively impressed. Mostly, I don’t know what it feels like. There are attitudes, and experiences, that I don’t have, and I don’t know how to relate.
I’m sure Yanni’s family is fairly secular; she became a Communist, after all. But I don’t want to get it wrong, because I want to do her justice. And I also look on it as a way of easing into dealing with my own karma. Because, well, I just got word this spring, that I’m going to be Jewish in my next life. Papa had promised that we would be Catholic for social purposes, and perhaps we will, by then . . . but he’s gotten himself born in Prague as we planned, and, well, his major resource for the information that he used to land himself there, was an old Jewish rabbi who used to take care of him when he was a child, and . . . you know the Gods. Sense of humor. So I might as well start getting used to it.