Tuesday, 27 September 2011
On one hand, it approaches a subject that is rarely written about, is very well researched, presents a compelling argument, and does not seem to have garnered criticism from experts on the subject. On the other, the translation or editing of the volume is shoddy, which gives the impression that the book was produced in much the same fashion. Additionally, the construction of the book's argument sometimes feels a little heavy-handed - not manufactured - but as if all evidence available leads inexorably towards a very few conclusions.
What does the book argue? Tracing the relationship between the Nazi plans for the Middle East, particularly Palestine, and the nascent Palestinian nationalism movements striving to throw off the colonial presence, Mallman and Cuppers make a convincing case for the Middle East as an overlooked realm of conflict in the Second World War, and one in which anti-Semitism played a pivotal role in bringing the Nazis and Palestinian/Muslim revolutionaries together.
An area where the book falls short, in my estimation (as someone who is not an expert on Middle Eastern history or politics), is in its attempts to link contemporary Palestinian/Israeli conflicts to events of the Second World War-era machinations of the Nazis. The Epilogue does offer an intriguing survey of contemporary positive references to Hitler, Nazis, and Nazi anti-semitic policies in Middle Eastern mass media, that does lend some credence to their argument for a connection between the past and the present.
On a personal note, I found the material discussing how the Nazis opted to build some flexibility into their racial policies, particularly for SS units, when the war on the Eastern front required more soldiers, and one of the candidate populations for willing recruits was Muslim anti-communists from the Caucasus. It was fascinating to read that the Germans were willing to provide halal food and imams for these troops, when the rhetoric of the Nazis more widely known and publicized makes such a compromise hard to conceive of.
Brown has managed to concoct an memoir style graphic novel that chronicles his life as a 'john'; a man who pays women for sex. Of course, the novel is bound to be controversial. Brown has included an abundance of philosophical, political, and historical arguments in favour of deregulating, if not legalizing prostitution in Canada. While his ideas are interesting, they are unlikely to switch the thinking of anyone.
Less often explored in discussion of the book is the conundrum (characteristic of all autobiography) of separating fact from fiction, elimination of uncomfortable truths, and introduction of fictional elements to support a particular narrative outcome. In all the interactions Brown includes, his communication with the prostitute is generally either positive, or coldly analytical and unemotional. Perhaps this is the mindset that must be adopted to 'pay for it', but it does not help the reader understand some of the difficult questions the book raises but unsatisfactorily covers. For instance, what proportion of prostitutes are the clever, savvy, independent women Brown describes, and how many of them are transported here under false pretences, kept against their will or shamefully manipulated into the sex trade, and don't want to do this kind of work? Brown does narrate to a certain degree that he exercised choice as a john, perhaps seeking out prostitutes who seemed in control of their own business, but it does not eliminate the reality that many men do not, and in fact might seek out a capitalist bottom-line of 'getting their nut greased' at the cheapest price possible over some kind of sexual libertarianist praxis.
Brad Mackay reviewed the novel in the Globe and Mail (30 Apr. 2011).
Brian Heater wrote a far better review in the Daily Crosshatch (6 Jun. 2011).