Thursday, December 30, 2010
I have a conundrum that may be unique in the annals of the literary expose. I just received via parcel post a package of books from Russia (see below). They are in Russian, of course, and published by Ekmo, a Russian publisher. They look very cool, actually, a nice hardcover edition with an embossed color illustration, as you can see. I am the author of this book, and have no idea what the Russian title is, but my original title was The Shakespeare Chronicles, written by me under the pseudonym John Underwood: my paternal great-grandfather's name, and also the name of one of Shakespeare's Boon Companions.
Here's the thing: there is no English language version of this book. (Full disclosure: there is an obscure nonfiction trade book by the same title and a different pseudonym of Desmond Lewis. This is actually the basis of my book, and is part of the plot). My foreign agent Danny Baror sold rights to my book to Russian, Polish, Czech, Bulgarian and Italian publishers back in 2005. My New York agent at the time couldn't find a single U.S. or English taker. As a result, Baror dropped the book like a hot potato because he, as well as those European publishers, had all expected an American edtion to further sales and interest, which didn't happen. So what kind of book could this be, to be so quickly snapped up in Europe, and so universally dismissed and rejected in the U.S. and UK?
In brief, the book is a puzzle mystery, about a contemporary journalist who discovers that Shakespeare was not what he seemed. But what I have learned is that, unless you are Mark Twain (who also criticized and questioned Shakespeare, and got censored for it) one does not question or criticize The Bard of Avon in the English-speaking world. You can question Jesus. Or the President. You can excoriate the Opus Dei, or even the Vatican. You can elevate Mary Magdalen to a possibly well-deserved place at Jesus's side, and even imply that Paul in The Last Supper is actually a woman, namely Mary Magdalen (I like that one, having seen the painting). Dan Brown did all this in The Da Vinci Code and wasn't even struck by lightning.
What one cannot do, however, and must not do, is openly call Shakespeare to question. Unless you are in Russia. Sure, you can write some easily dismissable minor tome about how he was really the Earl of Oxford or Frances Bacon (Mark Twain's conclusion) but those notions are all complementary, in the end, as though God, or Will o' the Wisp had some hand in why his name, and not another, should appear under the title of so many great works (and quite a few not-so-great ones as well). Such temerity and disrespect of authority is simply not done. At least not in the UK or its global cultural and linguistic sway. And never mind the facts, but then since when were believers ever swayed by facts in any case. Shakespeare is The Bard, it is etched in stone, and never to be questioned--ever.
I, for writing such heresy am therefore a literary apostate, it seems, and, like Marlowe in Shakespeare's time and now all of we who are not Muslims or Baptists, an infidel to boot. The Ayatollahs of Academe have as much as said so, hence my literary escape to Russia.
But wait. All of that was five years ago. It took that long to translate my 110,000 word manuscript into Russian and revise it in ways I will never even know about including a new title and author's name to suit Russian and other Eastern European tastes. Surely challenging those in positions of power who usurp the works or rewrite the words of others; who steal the congressional seats of progressives (wait, I digress); who take credit for good works they opposed; who profit from the misery of others including famine; who exploit all manner of land, and property and persons; who get rich by unscrupulous lending practices (all of which Shakespeare provably did), surely to take such a stand, would be applauded, not censored!
Except, it seems, amazing as it seems, in the English-language publishing world. And so my manuscript lies fallow, unread except by those unblinded or censored by English and American literary belief and tradition. And yet there is something familiar about all of this. Might history yet be repeating itself? Who else must be experiencing this kind of blanket condemnation and censorship for daring to disclose the inconvenient truth? And now in England, no less, where my own fictional journalist dared to venture. Julian somebody? But stay. At least he got a book deal. I am still waiting.