The presentations at the South End library's speaker series this fall thus far have run the gamut from the highly polished (Steve Kinzer) to the fun-and-snappy (Diana Nicosia) to a difficult-to-interpret account of anti-semitism inflicted on a Holocaust survivor in the US. Difficult, because names and places were changed to protect everyone's privacy, and the account itself was fictionalized by the author, Frederick Golder. Too much variety in subject and style perhaps? Or an example of why branch libraries are so important in their communities as a showcase for it? "The point is that it is offered," commented Susan Brauner, an East Boston library advocate who attended one of the events,
Foreign-policy reporter and Boston Globe columnist Steve Kinzer, talked to a standing-room-only crowd in late September about his recent bus trip across Iran; his wife, the artist Marianne A. Kinzer, presented a slide show with photos she had taken. Assigned to report from Asia Minor as the New York Times Istanbul bureau chief in the 1990s, Kinzer ended up covering the 1997 presidential election of reform politician Mohammad Khatami in Iran. "I was a 'naif' about the Middle East," he said. "I knew that it consisted mostly of "fake countries" with borders drawn on a map by "diplomats in country clubs." But he discovered that Iran was "the opposite of an invented nation," more like a 2500-year-old country with borders and a language that had largely remained the same, and a population aware of the history of its cultural, political and scientific influence. "The gap between what Iran should be and what it was seemed like a mismatch," Kinzer told the audience. He learned that the 1953 overthrow by the CIA of the only democratically elected government in Iran headed by Mohammad Mosaddegh was an explanation, a coup that still haunts the Iranians, as does the 1979 hostage crisis haunt the American political establishment. Kinzer declared that, in his opinion, the nuclear agreement between the US and Iran is "the greatest breakthrough since the opening of China" although he is concerned that it is seen by too many US politicians as a way "to corral Iran and keep them down." "The US and Iran have coincident strategic interests," Kinzer explained, adding he hopes that the "real Iran" he came to know over years of reporting from there will replace the US "fantasy concept" of a terrorist state so prevalent now.
Diana Nicosia's debut-thriller, The Caravaggio Contract, is a fictionalized whodunit set in our time, based on actual lost art work of Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio; he died under mysterious circumstances in Tuscany in 1610. Nicosia, an accomplished visual artist (and former wife of South End's real estate mogul, the Mario), painted in Tuscany for 20 years before trying her hand at writing when there was a downturn in the art market in 2008. She took writing workshops at the St. Botolph Club and researched the life of Caravaggio at the Boston Public Library, in Italy, and by talking with many art historians. She uncovered a profile of a tormented painter who survived a tough childhood as a young orphan in Milan. He had a penchant for making enemies, but is nevertheless beloved by Italians, she learned. "Italians feel he's alive, they own him, and everyone has an opinion about him," she said. The strong visual qualities of her writing has drawn some interest from movie companies, Nicosia said; she is currently working on a screenplay and a sequel.
When God Looked Down and Wept is the title of a book by Frederick Golder, who introduced himself as a civil rights attorney with 35 years experience. "I sued everyone," he said mildly. The case upon which the book, his first, is based centers on a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, Alex Sharf, who became a beloved and accomplished high school teacher in the US, but who was fired during a period of declining enrollment for being 'too Jewish.' One of the complaints against him was he took (unpaid) leave during Jewish holidays, something he was entitled to: he was an observant Jew. The case had been referred to Golder by Leonard Zakim, then the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. An oral history of Alex Sharf is in the collection of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, submitted by a former neighbor who knew him.
Golder presented a short filmed interview with the subject, but told the audience that he was unable to provide actual names, places, or time frame of when the case took place. In the book, the narrator is called Benjamin Sharkofsky. Nor did he want to reveal the outcome of the case he brought, because "that's in the book." When asked why he could not provide more facts so the reader could better assess the particulars of the story, Golder said he was protecting "the privacy" of all involved. Even the location of the case was "not relevant." He let it slip it was somewhere in New England. He said that the actual story had been fictionalized in his book for the same reason, and remained adamant about not providing any details of this otherwise compelling and heart-wrenching story.