Thursday, January 27, 2022

What’s Old is New Again from James W. Ziskin

Over the past several years, the US has become objectively more polarized politically. Have you accounted for this in your recent work in any way? If so, how?

This week’s question is one I’d rather avoid. I have strong views on politics, but have come to realize that arguing my side publicly does not convince or convert people who disagree with me. The country has become so divided that I truly fear for its future. Civility, if it ever was present in our political culture, has certainly dried up now. Insults, intransigence, racism, violence, and real threats to our democracy are the norm these days. I find it all distressing.

That said, I will try to give an adequate answer all the same.

Like Dietrich, I write stories that take place in the past. Ellie Stone, the protagonist of my mysteries set in the early 1960s, is a fierce liberal. She cares about those less fortunate than herself, and does not abide prejudice or injustice. She prefers to punch up rather than down. And she comes from a family grounded in academics and the arts. Her childhood vacations were spent at a mountain lake in a sort of leftist collective with other like-minded intellectuals. She campaigned for JFK in 1960.

And while the world was certainly a different place in the early sixties, some social and political issues of that era remain at the fore to this day. I have addressed some of those topics in my books, for example antisemitism, racism, and misogyny, as well as violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. In Ellie, I’ve tried to paint a picture of an engaged, aware young woman of her time. To ignore social issues in my books would amount to a blinkered view of history.

My next novel, Bombay Monsoon (December 6, 2022), is set during the 1975 Emergency in India. At the eleventh hour, just as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was about to be forced from office, she engineered a virtual coup (Emergency) under the guise of protecting India from “internal and external” threats to the nation. Civil liberties, due process, and freedom of the press were all suspended during the Emergency. Mrs. Gandhi threw her political opponents in jail. And, of course, she held onto power. 

The Emergency lasted nearly two years. When Mrs. Gandhi finally lifted the edict, she was promptly voted out of office. Three years later, she returned to power and led the country until her assassination by her own bodyguards in 1984. 

As I researched and wrote Bombay Monsoon, I couldn’t help thinking of Richard Nixon, who, one year before Mrs. Gandhi’s Emergency, had reluctantly resigned from office. I wondered what might have happened if he’d attempted a coup similar to Mrs. Gandhi’s to retain power. In Bombay Monsoon, my protagonist broods over that very question. He’s disappointed that Mrs. Gandhi failed to rise to even Nixon’s level of integrity.

And, lest anyone believe that a coup such as the Emergency—a transparent subversion of democratic process and attack on the rule of law—could only happen in a place like India, I point with sadness to the events of January 6, 2021. I shudder to think how close we came to our own American “Emergency.”


Connie di Marco said...

Congratulations, Jim! I'll look forward to reading this, looks fantastic!
(Hmmm ... a coup similar to Mrs. Gandhi’s?)

Thomas Kies said...

Excellent blog, Mr. Ziskin! All the while you were talking about the coup by Gandhi, I was thinking about Jan 6!

James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Connie and Tom. Scary times.


Linda C. Wisniewski said...

Far from New Holland but this one sounds like a winner all the same.