Ages ago, when I auto-disqualified any works set during the Holocaust, slavery, etc from nomination in the YA Agony Awards, I threatened to do a second run-off based on the trashiest and most exploitative works involving real-life tragedies.

Before I go any further, I want to make it very, very clear that I am not mocking the Holocaust or any other real life atrocities! I am mocking works of fiction which make inappropriate, trashy, and/or ludicrous use of actual and horrible historical events.

("Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers is a deliberate parody of that sort of thing, and so doesn’t count. (The link goes to "I'm WET! And I'm STILL HYSTERICAL!")

I’m not sure if I’ll actually do a run-off, but a while back I had a conversation over email which I kept meaning to write up.

I wrote, “There was this whole genre of trashy Holocaust novels, popular I think in the 80s, which I kind of distilled into the cement truck Holocaust novel. [Link contains spoilers for Mockingjay.]



I recall one about blonde, blue-eyed Jewish twins who were experimented on my Dr. Mengele, I think to make them telepathic...? And maybe he genitally mutilated one but not the other...? And the mutilated one became a circus acrobat or maybe a lion tamer and had tons of anal sex because she had no clitoris, and died tragically, and the other became a repressed housewife.

...or maybe I hallucinated it. I bet faithhopetricks’ mad google skillz could find it if it exists!”

Indeed, they could! Using the search terms "holocaust novel twins lion tamer sex," she dug up Entwined: a Riveting Tale of Telepathic Twins.

Amazon describes it thus: Rebekka, known also as Vebekka, is brought to post-wall Berlin by her wealthy husband for treatment of her violent, inexplicable rages, which threaten the lives of their children. Also newly arrived in Berlin is her twin Ruda, a lion tamer whose daring act is a visiting circus's main attraction. Separated since the war's end when they were preadolescents, Rebekka and Ruda have had very different lives: Rebekka was well cared for in America while Ruda survived by using her wits and by criminal behavior on the streets of post-war Europe. La Plante very gradually reveals the damage wrought by Mengele's experiments to induce telepathy in the twins (and also finally explains the surgical removal of Ruda's reproductive organs and the destruction of her genitals).

While Rebekka begins her hypnosis treatment, Ruda's ambition moves her to further crime; as their histories are disclosed, the twins are led to a final overwrought meeting under a Berlin bigtop.

That synopsis reminded me of the infamous Jerry Lewis movie, The Day The Clown Cried, in which he played a comedian in a death camp. You would not think that was such a great concept that it deserved to inspire not one, but three movies, but it also generated Life Is Beautiful, not to mention Jakob the Liar. I should note that lots of people thought Life Is Beautiful was a genuinely good movie. I have no opinion on the matter, because I can only stand to see one Holocaust movie every twenty years, and Schindler's List was it.

Speaking of controversial Holocaust movies, a number of parents I know were very, very ticked that Boy In The Striped Pajamas was advertised as a sweet story of friendship, with no mention of the fact that it’s a Holocaust movie and does not end happily. To say the least. All else aside, even if parents do want to take their kids to a Holocaust movie, most of them would like to know in advance that that’s what they’re doing. As it was, several family plans for ice cream after the movie had to be hastily switched to grief-and-trauma counseling after the movie.

Share with me your favorite examples of awful, exploitative, inappropriate, trashy, ridiculous, surprise!genocide or otherwise bad works of fiction attempting to springboard off of history. As in Life Is Beautiful, I realize that one person’s moving work of art is another person’s crass exploitation. Given that and the sensitivity of the subject, please be nice to each other in comments.
oursin: Hedgehog saying bite me (Bite me hedgehog)

From: [personal profile] oursin


There is a novel - I have forgotten both title and author, though I think author's name began with a Z - about witchcraft in modern suburbia, and fairly fluffy in tone, in which one character's traumatic backstory was the Aberfan disaster and their precognition of same in childhood.

This was not the only thing wrong with the novel, but it was a very strong mark in its disfavour.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter


There is also the entire subgenre in which historical tragedies are used to generate Angst! and Tragedy! for the rich privileged people having a romance or something! Ex. Sherry Thomas' Not Quite a Husband, possibly The Painted Veil (I haven't seen it).
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)

From: [personal profile] mme_hardy

Not a tragedy, but I have never forgotten


(much though I tried) Mary Jo Putnam's *The China Bride*

PW:
Nineteenth-century China, England and Scotland are the settings for Putney's continuing saga of the Renbourne twins, Dominic and Kyle, begun in The Wild Child. There, Kyle handed over his unwanted betrothed, Meriel (a match arranged at birth), to his twin brother, Dominic, and escaped to Spain with his terminally ill mistress, Constancia. Ever since his true love's death, Kyle has been exploring the world. In 1832, he is in Macao. His father's health is failing, however, and Kyle plans to fulfill his lifelong dream of seeing the Temple of Hoshan, "an image of peace and unearthly beauty," then return to England to resume his duties as Lord Maxwell. Unfortunately, China is closed to all Fan-qui (foreigners) and Kyle must stay within the confines of the Canton Settlement, a narrow strip of warehouses serving as shipping point for all European and American trade companies. In order to sneak into the Chinese countryside, Kyle enlists the aid of Jin Kang, who he thinks is a young male Chinese interpreter. Jin is actually Troth Mei-Lian Montgomery, feisty daughter of a Scottish trader and Chinese concubine, who is forced to make her living by spying on "foreign devils." Kyle's rash escapade is predictably unsuccessful, as he is discovered and sentenced to death. He marries Troth (symbolically) and dispatches her to England to tell his family of his fate, which, of course, turns out to be different from what she imagines. In chapters alternating between Troth's experiences in England and flashbacks to her adventures with Kyle in China, Putney contrives an awkward tale, dependant for its drama on Kyle's belief that he can never love again, and on Troth's fear of rejection by Kyle's family. Though the conflict rarely grips, the sex scenes are adequately steamy, and Putney provides plenty of atmospheric details.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter


OMG! And how could I forget the random invocations of Chernobyl in Moon Child as a backdrop to the touching story of the last mermaid of her kind (I think) who manifests as a young boy who is then hit upon by his adult guardian! With bonus racefail portrayal of a black woman to boot!

Would also be interested to see what people thought of Lois Lowry's Number the Stars? I remember really loving it as a kid, but as a kid I was totally into anything that mined the Holocaust for Touching Narratives.

Oh! Also, there is a French Resistance narrative in The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, a five-generation backstory of the Sweet Valley High Wakefield twins! It involves Marjorie, who is in France and joins the French Resistance due to her love of her Jewish best friend Sophie and Sophie's older brother, but of course Sophie's older brother tragically dies to provide more angst! Marjorie then randomly marries an American soldier. (I always thought Sophie was the coolest.)
nextian: Chibi Jon Stewart, looking skeptical. (jon has some questions)

From: [personal profile] nextian


I HATED Number the Stars, but not because it was exploitative; I pretty much spent my whole childhood despising Holocaust narratives purely due to their relentless ubiquity in my environs. (I also hated The Diary of Anne Frank.) From an adult point of view, I think it's very well done, sufficiently well done that I never guessed that Lowry was not a Jew, and the main character's trauma-induced disassociation in the camp is still with me.

.... Uhhhh, never mind, I was thinking of "the Devil's Arithmetic."
Edited Date: 2011-04-08 07:15 am (UTC)

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meara: (Default)

From: [personal profile] meara


I recall a whole series of romance/ya books set during "important historical events"--but the two I remember were a flood (maple syrup floor maybe?) and the titanic. So not, like "hey she found romance during the declaration signing" or something, though those may also have existed.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)

From: [personal profile] mme_hardy


Probably the Boston Molasses Flood, one of the most awesome disasters ever. If nobody had died, it would definitely be the Best. Calamity. Ever.

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ajollypyruvate: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ajollypyruvate


Oyate.org used to have a 'Books To Avoid' section but I think you can now only find such in A Broken Flute.

From: [identity profile] james-nicoll.livejournal.com

grief-and-trauma counseling after the movie.


From wikipedia:

"[Grave of the Fireflies'] initial theatrical release in Japan was accompanied by Hayao Miyazaki's [snip] My Neighbor Totoro as a double feature." (To great success; the MNT article says "The dual billing was considered "one of the most moving and remarkable double bills ever offered to a cinema audience"."

My Neighbor Totoro

Grave of the Fireflies

From: [identity profile] james-nicoll.livejournal.com

Re: grief-and-trauma counseling after the movie.


Don't get me wrong; they're both good movies. It just would not have occurred to me to double bill them.

From: [identity profile] viorica8957.livejournal.com


Every entry in a teen writing contest ever?

No, seriously. The local library holds a short story/poetry competition every year, and without fail, there's at least one Holocaust-themed entry in each category. I suppose the charitable explanation would be the entrants trying to work through their feelings, but honestly, I'm more inclined to suspect that they come from the "tragedy is great (or at least award-winning) art" school of thought.

There's also The Unborn (http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/teamt/fbv/bmbe/30314-the-unborn-2009), a Jewish-themed horror movie containing the truly unfortunate like "you must finish what was started at Auschwitz." Out of context, but still!

I've seen Life is Beautiful- it was part of the Holocaust in Film course I just took. I'd say it's a good movie, but not a good Holocaust movie, if that makes sense? It's a touching story, but the question of whether or not it's appropriate to use a death camp as the framework for a story like that- not to mention taking historical liberties for the sake of the plot- is one I don't really think I'm qualified to answer. It made me tear up, and the performances were strong, but at the same time . . . death camps? Really?

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From: [identity profile] faithhopetricks.livejournal.com


//buffs nails at getting props for mad google skillz


Caveat: I DID NOT FINISH THIS.

http://www.amazon.com/Anne-Frank-Me-Cherie-Bennett/dp/0698119738/ref=cm_lmf_tit_7

Amazon saith:

Nicole Burns is a self-absorbed teenager only too quick to believe what she reads on the Internet about Anne Frank's Diary being a forgery. When her class visits an exhibit about Anne Frank, the students are assigned the identities of Jewish teenagers during the Holocaust, to make the experience more vivid. Shots ring out and "a sudden pain pierced Nicole, red-hot"; Nicole regains consciousness to find herself in wartime France, living out the destiny of the teen whose name she was given at the museum. Bennett and Gottesfeld acknowledge their debt to Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (Nicole's class is supposed to watch the TV adaptation of the work, which also involves an unappreciative teen's journey back through time into the Holocaust), but this treatment doesn't measure up. The time-travel mechanism is inconsistent and incompletely developed, and the writing is flimsy. Ironically, given the attention it pays to the authenticity of Anne Frank's diary, this story includes a pivotal encounter with Anne Frank that blithely contradicts what is known of Frank's life following her family's arrest

1) Hey, let's rip off Jane Yolen!

2) Let's start off with a website with awful "teenspeak"! (Sample: "Sometimes I am numb. Nothing matters. Other times, when I let myself feel, I feel too much. Bleed for everything.")

3) yeah, the depiction of teenagers is just about what you would expect from that

4) especially when a Holocaust survivor is invited to the classroom to speak and the "heroine" is obsessed with her crush passing notes to his ex

5) and then thinks "Suddenly Nicole got a terrific idea. What if she could find some kind of online summary of Anne Frank's diary? Like Cliff's Notes, only shorter?"

......aaaaand I just had no heart to go into the time travel stuff where the narrator is then "a privileged Jewish girl in Occupied Paris." Maybe that was better-done. But I really doubt it.

From: [identity profile] viorica8957.livejournal.com


OH GOD, I'D FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT. And isn't there a scene where the Holocaust survivor is speaking with the class and some kid puts their hand up and says "No offense, but why are we even talking about this? Isn't it, like, over?"

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From: [identity profile] viorica8957.livejournal.com


Oh! And there were those two fake memoirs- one about a girl losing her family to the death camps and trekking across Europe with a wolf pack and stabbing a Nazi with a shiv (Misha something?) and one about the couple who met during the war years with the girl tossing the boy apples over the fence, only it turned out that none of it actually happened, because the place where they supposedly met was right next to the guards' barracks. Oops.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Oh boy, the wolf girl story~

So, back when I worked in Hollywood, this producer I worked with was trying to make the wolf girl book into a movie. In all the many meetings we had about it, no one once raised the possibility that it might be fake. It certainly never occurred to me.

When the whole story came out - the author wasn't even Jewish - all the articles said, "How ridiculous! How could anyone have believed such an obvious pack of lies?"

But the thing was, we all had heard many true Holocaust stories, and they all sounded implausible. I knew a guy whose father had lived in the woods in Poland for three years, alone, starting when he was about nine. For anyone, especially a child, to survive the Holocaust, required such a long string of unlikely events and coincidental escapes that every true story sounds unreal.

And so we were fooled.

From: [identity profile] saladinahmed.livejournal.com


I thought Schindler's List was pretty awful - Speilbergian exploitative schlock Hollywoodizing the Holocaust (and leading Jewish-German critic Henrik Broder to coin the devastating one-liner "There's no business like Shoah business" as a dismissal of this kind of stuff).

Anway,it's a good thing you're asking for books, because if it were songs I'd totally win this thread in one post. Because, really, can anything beat Europe's "Cherokee?" Methinks not.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5Ai_IEV3n4

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ext_12512: Hinoe from Natsume Yuujinchou, elegant and smirky (Tejonihokarawa: sovereign)

From: [identity profile] smillaraaq.livejournal.com


I suppose it would be cheating to nominate the complete Cassie Edwards bibliography en masse?

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


It's a classic for a reason! What really makes those rise above many undoubtedly equally offensive titles by others was the plagiarizing from an article on prairie dogs.

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skygiants: Yankumi from Gosuken going "..." (dot dot dot)

From: [personal profile] skygiants


This is alt!history so it doesn't really count, but Steven Hunt's The Court of the Air featured - well, I will quote from my review:

[Steampunk RussiaFrance] has been taken over by EVIL COMMUNITYISTS and their CARLIST PHILOSOPHY (seriously) who are running all the nobles through their not!guillotine in the public square and have put up a GIANT WALL (SERIOUSLY) between them and the freeeeeee people of [Steampunk England] so the poor oppressed FrancoRussians cannot escape. If I remember right, there was a lot of discussion of the tragic attempted wall-crossings and the horror of a fantasy arms race, and then the Communityists invaded and tried to turn everyone into robot zombie slaves.

I also seem to remember a Sheri Tepper book in which the Arab-Israeli conflict was taken care of by disappearing Jerusalem off the map. WELL, PROBLEM SOLVED.

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From: [identity profile] vom-marlowe.livejournal.com


The one I vaguely remember is the lonely girl who befriends a boy who turns out to be a dead soldier. The crocuses are over and Hitler is dead. I was mesmerized by the story as a kid, but have no memory of its contents besides that.

I'm also very unfond of Maus (the comic), but I know a lot of people really like that one.

From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com


The one I vaguely remember is the lonely girl who befriends a boy who turns out to be a dead soldier. The crocuses are over and Hitler is dead. I was mesmerized by the story as a kid, but have no memory of its contents besides that.

Oh, I remember that one too! I can't remember what it was called, though. And I think I may be mixing up details about it with Summer of My German Soldier, in which a lonely girl makes friends with a live rather than dead soldier.

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From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


What you say about not letting parents know that the movie was actually a Holocaust movie--that's such a good point. My dad had a similar (but much more mild) experience with an episode of The Mentalist, of all things. It was this past week's episode, actually. It was being all mentalist-y and then ZING at the end it brought in Bonus!Assisted Suicide, and furthermore managed to have Mr. Jane come down on both sides of the issue. Clever producers had apparently not decided which way they wanted to fall.

I just was bemused when I saw it, but my dad was kind of unsettled.

From: [identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com


I actually teared up at that ep, but, I really like the show and it was a different kind of character development for Jane.

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From: [identity profile] angevin2.livejournal.com


I once happened across fic that was a crossover between Twilight and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, in which the two protagonists of the latter were rescued (and vampirified) by Carlisle Cullen. It was handled with all the grace and tact you might expect after reading the previous sentence.

Sadly, or actually not at all sadly, I don't remember where it was. Which is probably for the best.
Edited Date: 2011-04-06 10:18 pm (UTC)

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From: [identity profile] newsboyhat.livejournal.com


I haven't read through all your comments so far, but The Book Thief for me, definitely.

From: [identity profile] veejane.livejournal.com


I am memfaulting the titles of several kids' and YA titles, but if you want casual exploitation look no further than 50s pulp novelists. There's a minor character in Jim Thompson's The Grifters who is... okay, the whole reason she's there is to shock the protagonist, who is a conman slowly leaving the game, so she seems like a perfectly ordinary normal woman and then he has sex with her and afterward she's like, "Oh yes, I'm bleeding, that always happens, because of what Dr. Mengele did to me. My horrible childhood, let me tell you it."

And presumably the point was to be about how everybody in the non-conman world has ugly secrets and pasts too, and the border between the underworld and the regular world is more about how good a face you can put on things than about what you come from. But it was so totally WHAAAAT??? that it really screws up the novel. Thankfully, that whole subplot got left out of the movie version (1989), which otherwise left in every iota of weird and vaguely creepy sexuality from the original.

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com


I didn't mind her so much because I thought it was kind of nice to have a character who wasn't wholly a Holocaust Survivor-- she was a nurse, she kind of had her own story, at least as I remember. I was a teenager when I read it, though. I didn't remember Mengele's name coming up, just that she was involve din some 'experiments' so my recall is no doubt fuzzy.

From: [identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com


The reason I cannot read Charles Stross is that in the first of the Laundry books, I forget what it is called, it was going along being a perfectly reasonable and indeed quite enjoyable Lovecraftian-bureaucracy-parody sort of thing and then the protagonist wound up in Europe researching something or other and found out that the entire Holocaust had been designed by Nazi magicians as a pain and suffering generator for their Evil Spells. And the thing is, there are works which might have gotten away with that, I mean I read Hellboy but Hellboy stays away from the actual war and takes place in the land of comic book villains, you know? And the tone of the Stross-- the book broke so hard, right there. Because no. That was real suffering and you do not get to say it was for some mystical thing or other your hero is fighting against.

I threw it across the room and I can't read Charles Stross.

From: [identity profile] sovay.livejournal.com


I thought I had never actually read any fiction which made gobsmackingly inappropriate use of the Holocaust, and then while talking with [livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks I remembered John Meaney's "The Swastika Bomb," a fast-paced spy thriller with a witty English hero in which the Holocaust is carried out with biological weapons of a type which canonically ensure there are no survivors, or at least not in any form that would ever be sentient or even recognizable as human again. I don't believe the alternate history affected the plot at all; its sole purpose, as far as I could tell, was to make the Holocaust worse. It's one of the few stories I've ever read and wondered, for non-stylistic reasons, why the hell it was ever published.

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com


So my nomination is the book "Alan and Naomi," which I read because it had my name in the title. This was middle grade and knocking around back in the 1980s, at least at my local library. My dim recollection is that it's set in the U.S. sometime after WWII and Naomi is a HORRIFICALLY DAMAGED and GENERALLY TRAGIC Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who sits in a corner rocking and whimpering and not talking to anyone. Alan is sent to try to befriend and help her, because "amateur therapist for shell-shocked genocide victim" is obviously a reasonable job for an eleven-year-old.

But he is so loving! and dedicated! that he draws her out of her shell and she starts talking again! ...until one day they go for a walk (she's also agoraphobic) and they get attacked by the local anti-semitic bully and Naomi is re-traumatized and goes back into her shell and is probably sent away to the local insane asylum forever, THE END.

Having described it, let me see if I can find a link and see what other people say about it...

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com


OH MY GOD THERE'S A MOVIE VERSION. ::dies in horrified hilarity::

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From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2014-03-04 03:07 am (UTC) - Expand

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From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2014-03-04 03:08 am (UTC) - Expand

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From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com - Date: 2014-03-04 03:10 am (UTC) - Expand

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From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com - Date: 2014-03-04 03:14 am (UTC) - Expand
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