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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Great Kisser

By: Jamie Glazov
Friday, November 24, 2006

Novelist and journalist David Evanier discusses his new novel, Jewish self-hatred on the Left and his own personal and intellectual journey.

Frontpage Interview's guest today is David Evanier, both a novelist and a journalist. He is the author of Red Love, The One-Star Jew, The Swinging Headhunter, Roman Candle: The Life of Bobby Darin, and Making the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story. He is co-author with Joe Pantoliano of Who's Sorry Now. He is a former fiction editor of The Paris Review, assistant editor of The New Leader, assistant editor of Hadassah Magazine, writer for the civil rights and research division of the Anti-Defamation League, and a contributor to Commentary, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The American Enterprise.
He is the author of the new novel-in-stories, The Great Kisser.
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FP: David Evanier, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Evanier: Pleased to be here.

FP: You were, at one time, a man of the Left. How did you get there? Were there some influences within your family?

Evanier: My parents were a little crazy, so it was kind of an inevitable attraction when I encountered the Jewish Stalinist Left. I first noticed them in 1950-53, during the trial and execution of the Rosenbergs. They were truly bizarre--eternal malcontents who wanted life to be perfect, the way they fantasized it to be in the Soviet Union. When you grow up in a crazy household, crazy people are deeply familiar to you and in a paradoxical way, you feel comfortable with them. That's how I felt.

By 1956, entering adolescence, I became more involved, although I never joined. I seem to recall first encountering David Horowitz in Sunnyside, Queens in those years. Khrushchev had given his speech about Stalin's crimes and concentration camps, so I was wary. But since I was looking for a girlfriend and a family, the Communists were perfect: they offered me unconditional love and acceptance if I was "progressive." But there was an additional reason for their love of me: after Khrushchev's speech, people were leaving the party in droves, crowding the exits. One little fellow--me--was pounding the door, struggling to get in. They greeted me ecstatically, referring to me as "a representative of the youth." I loved it; I could do no wrong with these people. Herbert Aptheker even introduced me to his daughter, Bettina, as a potential suitor.

I must say that the scene was ultimately too freakish for me, but its very oddity gave it a human fascination. After all, the comrades knew about Stalin and the concentration camps as well as the Soviet invasion of Hungary, yet they worshipped the Soviet slave empire. And at the same time they prided themselves on their humanity. They loved to talk about "progressive humanity," a phrase of Stalin's. That's how they thought of themselves. I left the Communist orbit in the early 1960's, but returned to it as subject matter in the 1980s, when I decided to write about the Rosenbergs in my novel, "Red Love."

FP: So tell us a bit about your experiences on the Jewish Stalinist Left and how they influenced your evolution and your writing.

Evanier: I remember the characters, and I write about them in "The Great Kisser." I attended Rosenberg rallies: hysteria, choruses, music, fainting fits, screaming family members. Helen Sobell stretching out her arms and pointed breasts and talking of her emotional needs. Money was collected immediately after the most wrenching speech. The P.R. director of the Rosenberg Committee, Ted Jacobs, confided to me (I must have been 11 or 12 at the time) over lunch after the execution that he had just read the trial transcript of the Rosenberg case for the first time. He asked me--of all people--"What if they are actually guilty?" This was the guy staging these rallies, and he was asking me?

I attended Herbert Aptheker's classes in the final year of the dying party institution, the Jefferson School of Social Science. He was my favourite Communist. I loved to watch him, with his blazing red hair and blazing eyes. He was the hottest, last true believer, with a volatile personality. He had a furious smile. Sometimes I thought he was about to explode and physically attack a questioner who might timidly question Stalin's "oh....moodiness." On the blackboard he had quotes from Stalin and a Brecht poem that said Communists did not kill, they stopped killing. He was pure, upright, incontrovertible, brilliant, almost overcome by internal fury. Weaklings might be deserting the cause, but not Aptheker. He was a rock. He had scientific reasons. He give you the feeling he could hold up the entire rotting edifice of Stalinism on his shoulders.

There was an inspired lunacy about him. Once I ran into him on a subway platform. I was carrying a briefcase, and he frisked me. He loved the word "indubitably." He was a chronicler of slave rebellions, his best known work, and he would suddenly start "talking black:" "The man says this, the man says that," he intoned. What a performer: he would turn his back on the class entirely for long periods of silent contemplation, gazing out the window. My favorite part was when he spat out that American leaders were "garbage," "a nest of vermin," "human animals," "lice," "scum," "bedbugs," "faggot honeybuns," "trash [with] the morals of goats, the learning of gorillas." He was speaking to a typical Communist ragtag crowd of that declining period: droolers, fat boys in shorts, white socks and sneakers, FBI agents, Communist singles. For a kid like me, from a broken home and a lot of anger, it was glorious to watch a man of such delicious extremes. This was so entertaining; hot stuff. He fascinated me--he was the raging heart of the Left. You've got to understand that I also thought he was a lunatic.

My complete break with the left came later, but even then it was impossible for me to be a true believer. Part of me was recording all this in my head for the writing I wanted to do and did do later. Aptheker was the party's last hope. He had a scholarly mien, he conferred a little legitimacy on it. But strip away that veneer and beneath the surface was a permanent state of rage. Anyway, he took me under his wing. He asked me, a kid, to evaluate his manuscript of "The Truth About Hungary." I said it was great.

He led me to other characters, including Benjamin J. Davis, the black party leader, comrade of Robeson, just out of prison. Davis was a Harvard Law School graduate and lawyer for the Scottsboro boys. Like Robeson, he had been caught up in the fever swamps of ideology and lost his mind. He was, like Robeson, imposing, tall and proud, and had been full of great promise.

But Robeson, who spoke like a robot at meetings of the party's National council of Soviet-American Friendship, had become a bore. Davis had the human touch. I write of this in "The Great Kisser": I had seen him in Harlem on the day he was released, lifted off the soapbox, lifted up and carried on the shoulders of his people, who were cheering him. But there was something wrong with this scene. Harlem didn't really believe what Ben believed; they just respected and loved him as a man. And then Ben spoke, and said one of the most insane things I ever heard in my life: "I'd rather be a lamppost in Moscow than President of the United States." Really? Well, I didn't know about that. That was weird even for me. He didn't say it just once; he chanted it, like a litany.

Aptheker sent me up to party headquarters to be recruited into the party by Davis himself; a great honor. I entered the party's red brick building and took the elevator up to the third floor. There was Ben, behind his desk, reading. I stood there looking at him, and it was as if he were covered by radioactivity; I would be in the circle of these artifacts and pariahs who were in jail or going to jail and I didn't even believe a word of what they said. It was too late in the century. I couldn't do it. I turned and ran down the steps, and tried to figure out how to explain it to Aptheker. I told him, "I'm not worthy enough yet to drink from the well of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism." Slurp slurp.

And finally I'll add to my gallery Comrade Sophie, who ran the Jefferson Bookshop on East 16th Street off Union Square. Sophie had a little moustache. She was a little Jewish lady married to a retired Harlem Globetrotter. She called me a "young Lenin" and gave me socks and underwear. She brought in whiskey miniatures, mixed them with ice water from the water cooler, and together we toasted Fidel Castro. She would take me down to the basement of the bookstore where she would give me "hidden" books; William Z. Foster's "Towards a Soviet America" and Stalin's Collected Works in red leather, all of which she called "the real stuff."

FP: How about some of your early experiences with anti-Communism?

Evanier: Just as I was exposed to an unusually close-up picture of the American Communist Party at an early age, I was also soon made aware of the realities of Communism by a number of notable anti-Communists. When I was 16, my father, a man of very modest means, mustered up the funds to send me to the Cherry Lawn School in Darien, Connecticut, one of the greatest experiences of my life. You learned when you were loved. The school was run by a feisty, vibrant Swedish woman, Dr. Christina Stael von Holstein Bogoslovsky, and her husband Boris Bogoslovsky, a Russian emigre who worked for the U.N. The students sat outside in winter on the porch for history classes taught by Dr. Stael and for morning assemblies. Even now I can see Dr. Stael in her garden, hear her lilting voice, and remember how she pounded us on the back in the snowy cold days of winter, vapors rising from our breaths.

Boris was alarmed at my inviting a representative of the Communist-led New York Teachers Union to speak at Cherry Lawn, and proceeded to begin my education in the realities of Communism. And as the snow fell, icicles hanging from the awning over our heads, Boris' friend Alexander Kerensky, the head of the Menshevik opposition to the Bolshevik revolution, spoke to us of Stalin's murderous crimes and of the Soviet system of slavery. We studied Gorky through Gorky's own autobiography and then were taught by Boris about Gorky's murder by Stalin and read Gouzenko's "Fall of a Titan" and "The God That Failed." The school had a strong Quaker orientation, but it was based on humanism; it was not the kind of Quakerism that leant itself toward apologizing for tyrants and murderers--i.e. we learned that there was nothing "progressive" or "humane" about the mass murder of innocent people.

My English teacher, Basil Burwell, a Quaker, was an inspiring person, and our curriculum included Arthur Koestler and Dostoyevsky. Bazz, also a director, typecast me as a dreamy poet who wanders across the stage reading a book and bumping into people in Koestler's play, "Twilight Bar." He too made it plain that there was absolutely no difference between Nazism and Communism. And so, at a very early age, and as a young Jew, I was gaining unusual insight and awareness into the facts about Communism. It was during this time that I gained a chilling awareness of a fact that never left me -- there were at least two Holocausts in the first half of the 20th century happening almost simultaneously: the Nazi and the Soviet. One inspired the other. Between them they managed to torture and murder millions and millions of innocent human beings in a slaughter that is still impossible to comprehend. That awareness has haunted and shaped my life.

The themes of gratitude and love of America in "The Great Kisser" in the wake of the two Holocausts and 9/11 were planted within me early on in my green and innocent days on the porch of Cherry Lawn. The staff of Cherry Lawn were my introduction to Western Civilization. But I would say that my anti-Communism (which for me is intertwined with my entire grasp of reality) was shaped most indelibly by an experience in Israel when I was 20. I went there to work at Kibbutz Sasa for the summer. Before I left, Comrade Sophie said to me, "Why in the world would you go to that imperialist outpost?" she was clueless. After all, I could have gone to the Soviet Union or any of the People's Republics instead. Picking cherries in the fields, one day I looked out in the sun and saw the tattooed concentration camp numbers on the arms of some of the kibbutz members. At that moment I fully understood the meaning of Israel, America, democracy and freedom, and the insanity of Stalinism. That was my entry into the real world, and I was altered forever.

FP: How did you come to understand the Soviet connection to the American Communist Party in your youth?

Evanier: As I said earlier, because the Communist Party was so decimated when I began to hang around it, I was given a rare birds-eye view of things. As a novelist, I accumulate impressions and feelings, not factual documents. Even in the mid-and late `50s, with party members fleeing in large numbers, it was impossible not to recognize the huge number of front groups, institutions, hotels, camps, publishing houses, unions, theaters and real estate that the party ran and owned--all paying full-time homage to the Soviet Union. International Publishers, a party publisher headed by Alexander Trachtenberg and James Allen, published hundreds of Soviet books and books on Communism each year. Every iota of the party network was bound up with the Soviet Union. You were tested by your unblinking loyalty to the correctness of the Soviet Union at all times.

Supporting the Soviet Union in every way was a moral obligation, and anything whatsoever that advanced the Soviet cause was justified. Subterfuge and deceit were moral because they promoted a higher morality: the realization of a Soviet America. You were speeding up the locomotive of history. The letters of the Rosenbergs, which I parodied in "Red Love," are purged of almost any truth about their allegiance to the Soviet Union. They write that they are for "bread and roses," children's laughter and singing tomorrows. That's it. And yet for the Rosenbergs, as for all Communists, serving Stalin was the most sacred act; Stalin was Moses. The few that were detached from the party and selected for espionage work were the chosen ones.

But apart from the symbolism of it, everything I encountered in the Party was Soviet. Every living moment was spent in devotion to a Soviet tomorrow. Yet how they loved to deny the thing they loved and accuse McCarthyites, red-baiters and Nazis of slandering them. Earl Browder denied the Party's connection to any underground apparatus to the end of his life. His room on the ninth floor of party headquarters adjoined that of J. Peters, who helped coordinate the underground of the party across the United States. They passed each other in the hall every day, but ostensibly they were ships in the night. "I pledge myself," Browder said in 1935 to two thousand new Party members taking the oath, "to remain at all times a vigilant and firm defender of the Leninist line of the Party, the only line that ensures the triumph of Soviet Power in the United States."

FP: How come you use humor so often in your fiction?

Evanier: Reviewing "Red Love," Kirkus Reviews wrote that it was "irreverent, unflinching, and almost disgracefully entertaining." That was exactly my intention: to puncture the Left's myth of the sainthood of the Rosenbergs, who got such a kick out of trying to destroy the United States. While I use humor throughout my fiction as a way of hooking and seducing the reader and entertaining him or her, it's a particularly devastating tool in political fiction. Humor and satire is the Trojan horse that takes the readers by surprise and makes them see matters in a new and unexpected light—a ridiculous and revelatory light. It takes us to a new level of understanding. The wonderful new film satire "Borat" features a lead character who is a thorough anti-Semite who refuses to fly because the Jews "might restage their attack of 9/11." As John Podhoretz writes, "Borat is a satire of anti-Semitism--a riposte and retort to it in every conceivable way, akin to Jonathan Swift recommending cannibalizing children as a solution to the problem of Irish hunger in `A Modest Proposal.'"

In "The Great Kisser," for example, my narrator is prematurely balding. I write that Dr. Strugin, who is fashioned after Herbert Aptheker, "promised to send me to the Soviet Unon soon, where, he said, natural hair grew back as a matter of course." After I wrote this, I actually thought Aptheker had once said this, since it seemed completely characteristic of him.

In another scene in "The Great Kisser," to capture the surreal, bizarre and duplicitous nature of the party and its relationship to the Soviet Union, I create a scene in front of a dark, foreboding building that has an innocent-sounding name, the "Soviet Film Club." Late at night my protagonist walks by the building and sees "true believers beating their heads against its marble walls and pleading to be sent to the first land of socialism...Other nights I passed by...when the front of the building was deserted. There were strange sounds from within; I heard glee clubs, swimming lessons, people being harshly questioned, food being consumed, the smacking of lips, I saw turkey legs, gizzards, garter belts, red bras, and pasties being tossed out of the blackened windows." And in "Red Love," I have pro-Rosenberg picketers marching with signs that say about the Rosenbergs, "Whatever they did, they didn't do it." Now rereading that phrase, I could swear I actually saw those signs, and of course I didn't. But they embody a deeper truth, and they encapsulate perfectly the Communist point of view about the Rosenbergs--i.e. They were innocent because they were guilty. And this was American Communism in a nutshell.

FP: Who were some of your mentors? Tell us a bit about some of them.

Evanier: First teachers; Morton Ballinzweig, in junior high, who, I wrote when he died (I was 13), "made me love the days as I'd loved the nights." Teachers who let me call them on the phone afternoons and kept me going. Robert M. Ravven and Theodore Mitrani, the shrinks who would not let me fall, poor financial investment that I was. Ravven, with his map of Jerusalem on the wall, traveling to Israel to see me on the kibbutz with his wife and daughter. I can't measure or even understand all the boundless goodness that has been meted out to me.

Boris and Natasha Shragin, Soviet dissidents, who had fled the Soviet Union. Boris, sweet-voiced, strong, short, roly-poly, with little bits of hair atop his head, a scholar with a picture of Dostoyevsky on his mantel, who had risked death to oppose the Soviets. In Vermont I watched them hunting for mushrooms, running through the grass.

George Plimpton, who called me from a plane when he read a story of mine, published three stories in The Paris Review, then gave me a job as fiction editor, helped establish me in the literary world. Emile Capouya at the New School, superb literary critic, writer and teacher who introduced me to de Montherlant, Silone and Solzhenitzyn. In my leftie days, when I needed a letter for an (endless) draft deferment, he said "I'd be honored." Kay Boyle, famous novelist of the 20s lost generation in Paris, taught me at the New School and sent me a telegram at my boarding house when I was 20 praising a story of mine. In those days I needed that telegram more than food.

A writer I never met who is a lifelong friend: Ralph Ellison, who wrote the definitive novel of the 20th century, "Invisible Man." The most brilliant picture of Communism in Harlem is in that great work. Harvey Shapiro, who I worked with at the New York Times, went home at night after fulltime editorial work at the newspaper and quietly, without fanfare or self-promotion, produced, decade after decade, some of the most brilliant poetry of our time in volume after volume. William Herrick, writer and Spanish Civil War vet who told the truth about the Communists in Spain and picketed the party during the Hitler-Stalin pact. Was true to his anti-Communism through thick and thin, and was true to me as friend and guide and supporter until the day he died. Nate Perlmutter of the ADL, simple, modest, every sentence chiselled, eloquent Jewish warrior and conservative, bold and witty speaker and writer, who let me sit by his bedside and told me his life story in his final days. Lucy Dawidowicz, author of "The War Against the Jews," who came to me in loving friendship in what was to be the last year of her life and was a staunch champion of "Red Love."

And the writers who have most inspired me both on the page and in life: Norman Podhoretz, great memoirist, literary critic and breathtaking political thinker, unravelling complex issues with iron logic and honest emotion, synthesizing the most complex set of ideas and issues in a way that seems unparalleled and miraculous, a prescient and luminous writer. Thinking of how to characterize him, a friend said, "Oh, a genius." And I wondered, why didn't I think of that? And of course I've left out his kindness and generosity, true of everyone I have mentioned, but specific to him and to the two other writers and friends of integrity and achievement that I admire and love: Bill Buckley, and Stephen Dixon, the greatest fiction writer of my generation alongside Philip Roth, although Steve would not agree with the comparison. And my agent Andrew Blauner, with his transcendent and indefatigable commitment to real literature, friendship, and human kindness. And my wife Dini, who has the courage of a lion, the unerring sense of goodness and the beauty to stop time.

As I write in "The Great Kisser:" "Why have I been so lucky in this life, this Jew who came after the Holocaust--the world had expended its Jew hatred for a while, having gotten it out of its system--and seen such bountiful goodness, so much beauty, totally unsuitable beauty to make literature out of because it is unbelievable--so incredible it would be pointless to try to write a story about it."

FP: Mr. Evanier, it is a very small world my friend. I just wanted to take a moment out to say that Boris and Natasha Shragin were also very dear friends of my family. My dad and Boris were both former dissidents in the Soviet Union who fought for liberty under the Soviet regime. Together they both signed the Letter of Twelve, which denounced Soviet human rights abuses.

We saw each other many times in North America. Boris passed away years back. A great loss. I guess I just wanted to take a moment out and give respect to Boris and Natasha, two noble, courageous and wonderful people.
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Boris and Natasha Shragin

Evanier: I was at the hospital visiting him the final days before he died. I loved him very much, Natasha too. I met them when I was researching "Red Love," and we all became very close, and spent a great deal of time together at my home and theirs in Jackson Heights. I have many tapes of his recollections of his dissident struggles in the Soviet Union. I also interviewed him shortly before he died for National Review.

FP: It was heroes such as Shragin who helped pave the road to the overthrow of communism in the next generation.

Well, let's move forward.

Norman Podhoretz has said of "The Great Kisser:" "I was struck once again by what an original Evanier is. He sounds like no one else, and he has a great gift for infusing new life into material from which one would have thought all the juice had already been squeezed." Your previous novel about the Rosenberg case, "Red Love," was described by Lucy S. Dawidowicz, author of "The War Against the Jews" as "representing life and true to history, combining imagination with the documentary record, written with bite and black humor, tempered by compassion for the betrayed sacrifices, the lives lost." Entertainment Weekly gave the novel an 'A" and said it was "a tragicomedy of good intentions gone mad," and Elie Wiesel said it had "amazing perception." What reaction do you have to comments such as these about your work?

Evanier: Profound satisfaction and joy, of course, especially because in the cases of Podhoretz, Dawidowicz and Wiesel, I have such admiration for their work. I respect anything they say, and in these instances, they're talking about me. Writing takes so long, it is often so hard, and its isolation engenders such self-doubt, that this kind of praise brings the feeling that one's long journey was worth it and that you've reached your destination, your goal. It's the sense of recognition and most importantly, being understood by some of the best minds and creative artists in the country.

Most writers I know are so sensitive they tend to remember every damning word ever said about them, perhaps more than the positive ones. When I worked at the Times, a novelist named Julius Horwitz burst into the office looking for Christopher Lehman-Haupt, who had reviewed his book negatively. Horwitz shouted in a rage, "Let me get my hands on him, that son of a bitch. I'll kick him in the balls." Similarly, a novelist whose book I reviewed harshly perhaps 18 years ago has never forgotten me. He has put me in a novel of his to lampoon me, although I've never met him. He gives me a funny name, but that's all I know, since I haven't read this book and his work still doesn't interest me.

But I can't stress enough how important it is to me when praise comes from those I respect most. I have been asked at parties to greet writers whom I don't respect and have been at a loss at what to say them. And finally, it's not only praise that matters to me but the depth, insight, accuracy and eloquence of that praise, in addition to the stature and achievement of who is expressing the praise. Podhoretz and Dawidowicz caught exactly what I intended to do, and said I had done it. One of the saddest things one can do is read fiction which one has the feeling one has read before--but done with far more originality, passion and incisiveness. Everything seems derivative about it. Norman Podhoretz was alluding in his quote to the tired nature of most Jewish-American fiction today, which tends to be either a pale reflection of what has already been done--a kind of kitchen-sink naturalism, wrestling with sitting ducks, composed with cliches and platitudes--or an
exaggerated grotesquerie or surrealism to make it seem hip, fresh, and deep. Both techniques are hollow. And so Podhoretz expressed that awareness and at the same time said I was doing something new in "The Great Kisser." That was deeply gratifying to me; perhaps the most important praise I have ever received in my life.

Lucy Dawidowicz's words about "Red Love" are on the same level; they are so exact in their summary and understanding of what I attempted in "Red Love"--and exactly what I hoped and intended to accomplish. When I began writing that novel, I started with the documentary record, the FBI files of the Rosenberg case, and was intimidated and drowning in documents as I was working on the novel at Yaddo. One day I put all the documents aside, realizing I had absorbed them, but that now it was time to rely solely on my imagination. Then the question became, what tone and approach to use for the material? the Rosenberg case was so well known by then and everything had been said--and often so solemnly, so sentimentally. My research told me that the Rosenbergs had had a ball screwing the system. I had interviewed so many principals: Morton and Helen Sobell, and Julius Rosenberg's sister Ethel, John Harrington and Armand Cammarota, the FBI agents who arrested the Rosenbergs, among many others. Other writers at the colony were telling me how funny I was when I imitated the Communists, doing shticks about them and their bizarre language. That's when I decided on satire and comedy to get at the truth of the case. And yet I was not going to write a cartoon; I was trying to understand on a human and historical level a mediocre couple shaped by the depression years and the rise of Nazism. Lucy Dawidowicz understood all that: yes, it was humor, but "tempered by compassion for the betrayed sacrifices, the lives lost." And Entertainment Weekly capped it by stating that in my novel the Rosenbergs had "good intentions gone mad."

FP: What are your thoughts about Jewish self-hatred on the Left? Chomsky embracing Nasrallah is an eerie image that comes to mind in symbolizing this pathological phenomenon.

Evanier: There is a deep masochism in Jewish self-hatred on the Left, a denial of self and a self-obliteration. Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein are among the most odious "intellectual" examples. In Britain Eric Hobsbawm is another. A true believer to this day, totally detached from his Jewish background, he continues to write of the "titantic achievements" of the USSR. He dismisses 9/11, "certainly no cause for alarm for the globe's only superpower. Public mouths flooded the western world with froth as hacks searched for words about the unsayable and unfortunately found them." The real threat for Hobsbawm; "The enemies of reason...the heirs of fascism...who sit in the governments of India, Israel and Italy." The Left has always needed a panacea, a magic lantern or wand that will extinguish all its cares and usher in a perfect world. So it has drifted from Stalin to Mao to Fidel to Ortega to Pol Pot to Venezuela's anti-Semitic Chavez and the Palestinians and the Muslim terrorists. In doing so, it has always defended the oppressors and attacked the victims. V.J. Jerome, a colorless party theoretician, wrote an unreadable novel called "A Lantern for Jeremy." Guess what the lantern symbolized?

For left-wing Jews, that lantern--Communism--and in whatever diffused form it still manifests itself today--would extinguish anti-Semitism, but in a most peculiar way. Anti-Semitism would disappear because Jews would first disappear on their own initiative. (Remember the parallel argument today that if we didn't upset the terrorists, they wouldn't attack us).

Progressive Jews would merge into the proletariat as part of progressive humanity. To be Jewish was parochial, provincial and archaic, shackled to religious and nationalist superstition as opposed to scientific Marxism. The placating of the enemy, this self-immolation, has taken many forms, but essentially it has been the same since the Communist Party and its press, the Daily Worker and the Freiheit, applauded a pogrom against the Jews by Arabs in Palestine in the `20s. Jewish leftism has always put Jewish concerns and Jewish security last--in fact, obliterated them entirely. Take away economic inequality and everyone--Arab, Nazi, Muslim, perverts, thieves and suicide bombers--would be kind and good and share everything together.

The Communist Party's view of Zionism and Palestine in the 1920s is still the Left's view of Israel today: imperialistic, oppressive, expansive and fascist. It is the same Nazi lie in a new guise, the pot calling the kettle black. Fred Newman's "Marxist" New Alliance Party calls Jews the "stormtroopers" of capitalism. Tom Wolfe wrote of Leonard Bernstein's courtship of the Black Panthers in the `60s. Jewish record producers today who finance anti-Semitic and misogynist rappers consider themselves in a hip progressive vanguard. In a similar vein, Morton Sobell told me that he was proud of his mother for not reporting her black mugger to the police. And Helen Sobell was as ecstatic about the murderer Jack Henry Abbott as Norman Mailer was. "These jailers who destroy people: they're the ones who are guilty for any murders that happen afterward," she told me. "Look at the black people. They're robbed of everything before they are even born. They don't even get necessary nourishment in their mother's bellies. They're justified in whatever they do."

The Rosenberg case was the epitome of Jewish self-hatred. The Rosenbergs sacrificed themselves for one of the greatest anti-Semitic mass murderers in history, Joseph Stalin. In researching "Red Love," I interviewed Julius Rosenberg's sister who tried to convince me that Julius was "a good Jew": "He sold lollipops on shabbes, he wouldn't take the money for them. He would come back the next day to collect the penny for the lollies....Before you knew it, he went to Hebrew school, took a keen interest in Hebrew. Put his whole heart into it." Everyone connected to the Rosenbergs put on a Jewish face to convince the world the Rosenbergs were innocent victims of an anti-Semitic plot. (And of course it was also true that neo-Nazis gloated at the fate of the Rosenbergs). The poet laureate of the Rosenbergs, Edith Segal, even injected a Yiddish word into her ode to the sweet little couple: "Passing Lord and Taylor today/Sumptuous window display/Ethel, Ethel, Ethel Rosenberg/What's that lousy shmatte you're wearing/In your lonely prison cell?" And yet the only evidence of Jewishness in the Rosenberg letters was in their comparing Judaism to Communism. Communism was simply carrying Judaism to a much higher level. There was an involuntary spasm of Jewish self-hatred, however, in Ethel Rosenberg referring to Roy Cohn as "that kike."

When I wrote "Red Love," I encountered so many little Jewish Communist grandmothers with Yiddish accents who regarded themselves as alienated from the Jews and especially from the Zionists. They hated Israel with a special passion. Comrade Sophie was only one of many. Sarah Plotkin was 84 when I met her in the late `80s, a former party activist. She was described to me by her nephew as "like a defrocked monk." She had been used and abused, she was disillusioned, and she was searching for new messiahs. Sarah sat on her bed in her empty room with a bottle of beer in her hand. She had a tiny table on which she had placed, for me, gefilte fish, coffee, cookies and candies. She had given her life to the party, had nothing to show for it, and she knew it. It was self-obliteration. Now she had stacks of Black Panther newspapers in one hand and stacks of Young Lords newspapers in the other attacking the Jews. She handed them out on street corners. "The birth of the State of Israel didn't mean anything to me," she told me. "The leadership in Israel acts so horrible against the Palestinians, just like Hitler. To me the Israelis are just like the Hitlerites. To me, they are worse than Hitler. The Jews in America can swing a President, for Christ sake. My family--they are not Jews, they are not brought up as Jews, the parents were not religious, and they are so HOT for Israel! Now Goddamnit, what is it? What makes Israel so holy?"

And finally, in my meetings with Morton Sobell, meetings in which he both denied and almost admitted his espionage, there was a single Jewish moment in our conversations. It was after he accused me of being "full of feeling," which, I suppose, he felt would undercut his masquerade if he was swayed by the genuineness of it. At the very end of our last meeting, in his barren apartment on West 105th Street in Manhattan full of posters supporting Castro, for the Sandinistas, for every rotten and murderous cause imaginable, when he said he gave up on me as an "effete aesthete," he ripped my name off his bulletin board. He spoke, from some inner depths of his tortured being, one Yiddish word. "Farfallen," he said. It meant, "The opportunity is lost."

FP: What writers influenced you the most?

Evanier: It would be highly presumptuous of me to cite these writers as "influences," but certainly the five great masterpieces for me are Dostoyevsky's "The Possessed" (also the greatest novel on terrorism), Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," "Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" and Henry Roth's "Call It Sleep."

Still, of course they have influenced me in the sense that I admire and love them. And I feel virtually the same way about almost all of Dostoyevsky's work, Hemingway's "In Our Time," Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilych," Knut Hamsun's "Hunger," Daniel Fuchs' Williamsburg trilogy, Alexander Kuprin's "The Duel," Goncharov's "Oblomov," Silone's "Bread and Wine," Wiesel's "Night," Schwartz-Bart's "The Last of the Just," Jiri Weil's "Life With A Star," Borowski's "This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen," Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio," Solzhenitzyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," Saltykov-Schedrin's "The Golovlovs," Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie," Brendan Behan's "Borstal Boy," Tillie Olsen's "Tell Me a Riddle," Frank Norris' "McTeague," Celine's "Journey to the End of the Night," all of Dickens and Gogol, Sologub's "The Petty Demon," Meyer Levin's "The Old Bunch," Chaim Grade's "My Mother's Sabbath Days," Budd Schulberg's "What Makes Sammy Run" and his screenplay for "On the Waterfront," Nabokov's "Lolita," Alfred Kazin's "A Walker in the City," Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel," Frederick Exley's "A Fan's Notes," the novels of John McGahern, Theodore Weesner's "The Car Thief," Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," Dylan Thomas' poetry and "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog," David Black's "Like Father," Truman Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and the stories of James Alan McPherson, Isaac Bshevis Singer, Albert Murray, Delmore Schwartz, Grace Paley, Stuart Dybek and Ernest J. Gaines. Among the prose writers I have already cited Norman Podhoretz (most recently "My Love Affair With America" and "Ex-Friends" and Bill Buckley (recently "Miles Gone By,") and I would definitely add Elia Kazan's autobiographical masterwork, "A Life," and the film and drama criticism of John Simon.

Contemporaries who have certainly influenced me are the novelists Stephen Dixon, Philip Roth and Stanley Elkin for their wild humor, imaginative boldness and creative relentlessness. Charles Bukowski and John Fante are inspirations too because they are originals, and Fante's son Dan Fante is now following honorably in his father's footsteps with three novels and a book of stories. I have to cite the young playwright Adam Rapp for "Red Light Winter," because it's a heartbreaking and beautiful play, and so is Jonathan Marc Sherman's "Wallace and Women." Charles Reznikoff and the previously cited Harvey Shapiro are wonderful poets, and Amanda Stern's "The Long Haul" and Jonathan Rosen's "Joy Comes in the Morning are among the best new novels I have read recently. It is elevating to even mention all of these writers and their work. As "The Great Kisser" himself, I can tell you that I have kissed most of these books after reading them.

FP: Where do you consider yourself on the political spectrum?

Evanier: I would call myself a realist, but those who see things differently are sometimes eager to pigeonhole me. I identify with the Henry Jackson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Bayard Rustin, Bob Kerrey and Joe Lieberman kind of conservative, non-ideological Democrat who believe in America and a strong defense and still see labor and a social net as important. I'm equally at home with Rudy Giuliani, even sharing his points of view on abortion and most social issues, and feel he would a very strong leader in fighting terrorism. I think John McCain would also lead us effectively against the terrorists. Israel's security is one of my first priorities. The character of the person affects me much more deeply than their mouthing the right political line.

FP: Can you tell us about your first trip to Israel?

Evanier: It was 1962. I spent a summer at Kibbutz Sasa in Tiberias with a group of high school and college-age Americans almost as neurotic as myself. Sasa was a left-wing kibbutz. Its members were disillusioned with Stalin, but, I seem to recall, some of them had switched their allegiance to Mao. There was a much-loved composer there named Avi, who was going away on a trip. He supported my request to have some time alone in his cottage to work on my writing while he was away. The kibbutz in its collective wisdom turned me down. That decision made me question whether kibbutz life was for me. Admittedly, it might have seemed like a strange request coming from such a young person, but by then I was already a committed writer.

I was in love with another member of our group, Corie Zweig from Montreal, but she was in love with a dentist at home. A young soldier, Gideon, welcomed me to Israel, took me aside, showed me his barracks, talked with me in the fields, guided me, advised me about the Israeli girls, the nice ones, the cruel ones. When I left the kibbutz at the end of the summer, he gave me a picture of himself, "to remember me." Some of the macho soldiers gibed at us goodnaturedly; they didn't understand we were friends, that there was no gay component to it. The Israeli macho mentality stemmed, of course, from Jewish victimization in the Holocaust, and somehow I understood that.

Israel's impact on me was a gradual awakening that summer, an epiphany. I have told you about seeing the tattooed numbers on the arms of kibbutzniks, my most revelatory experience, and of Dr. Robert Ravven's visiting me with his family from Boston. Shy as I was, I traveled on my own to Haifa, hitching rides, an adventure I was incapable of in the States. I felt at home in Israel. I write in "The Great Kisser" of Oscar Schwartz, a Holocaust survivor who endured the horrors of the camps. Weeks after the liberation he took part in the wedding of a couple from the camp. The bridesmaids were also women from the camp, "dressed in evening dresses," he said. "Bald, short, tall." He shook his head in wonder. He moved his hands to express what he could not. "We sang the Israeli national anthem, `Hatikvah,'" he said. And then he added what was for him the most significant detail of all: "There was an Israeli soldier with the star of David." On another occasion he told me of the impact on him of seeing in Israel a "Jewish policeman on a horse."

Even without his horrific experiences, I had some of the same emotions in seeing Jews in control of their destinies, in charge. Montague Feist, a leftwing Jew I wrote of at length in "The Great Kisser" told me of arriving in Israel in 1948. He had served in the Haganah in Rome. On his first trip to Israel by boat, he said, "If you can imagine a boatload of passengers crying....Haifa was all white. I couldn't eat. People just stared and cried.

"There was pandemonium when we got off the boat. When we reached our kibbutz, I didn't want anyone to speak to me. I just wanted to look. My old friends who'd come before me greeted me. We sat by the fire and sang. I stayed up all night."

His account reminded me of a thrilling photograph I purchased at the Tel Aviv Museum by Hans H. Pinn of of joyous Israelis celebrating Israel's independence in 1948, holding up the Israeli flag. I have kept that photograph close by always, for it symbolizes the entire meaning of Israel to me.

My experience was, of course, a different and more complex one than Schwartz's or Feist's, but it was profoundly transformative. I was filled with emotion. it was like a coming to life. My experience of Jewish life in New York had been a retrogressive one: it was redolent of the poverty-stricken, tragic past. My father was always drawn back to the old neighborhoods, to the lower East Side, to Yonah Schimmel's knishes, the Garden Cafeteria where Isaac Bashevis Singer would sit and write, Ratner's, Molly's Restaurant with its singing waiters, the sacred Lower East Side Streets: Cherry, Catherine (where Eddie Cantor was born), Stanton, Delancey, Rivington, Monroe--where the Rosenbergs had lived in Knickerbocker Village. Israel was the miraculous future.

I sat in the water tower at Sasa reading Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel" for weeks, and the lyricism, the sense of wonder, the transcendence, the accounts of first love, the embracing of life and celebration of America in that book merged with my feelings about being in Israel. Undoubtedly some books are meant to be read at certain stages of life, and reading Wolfe has been consigned by the conventional wisdom to adolescence and early manhood. But while the rest of Wolfe's work (except for a few short stories) ranges from incoherent to inchoate to fragmented, I would swear that "Look Homeward, Angel" holds up as the masterpiece I remember it to be.

It was that trip that changed everything for me. It inspired hopefulness. I began to place my love where it belonged, giving it to those who deserved it. And like all human change, it was slow, ineffable, and inconsistent. But my sense of reality had been changed forever: about Israel, and about America. From that moment, I formed my opinions based on what I saw in front of me, not from abstraction and theory. And I would never have a close friendship with anyone who denied the miracles in front of my eyes.

FP: Who are some people you intensely dislike?

Evanier:
Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry, Al Sharpton, Noam Chomsky, Howard Dean, Al Gore, Maxine Waters and Michael
Moore.

FP: Kindly give us a sentence or two on each of these individuals that would shed some light on your disposition towards them:

Hillary: Scary. That Walter Keane look. She's robotic and mechanical, a block of ice. It's impossible to know who she is. She has that set expression, wide-eyed, nodding her head, expecially when her husband speaketh. Never says a spontaneous or original thing. Impossible to believe her movement to the center or anything else about her, except her grasp for power and love of monstrous amounts of money.

John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry: A lovely couple. I enjoy watching him because he's so arrogant, haughty, boring and inauthentic. Top of the line for these qualities. Both of them seem empty vessels. I imagine them as disliking each other intensely, with long empty silences between them, which was perhaps why she forgot to mention him in her mystical spiel at the Democratic convention except in passing.

Sharpton: Well, this is a depressing matter. I think of the pantheon of great civil rights figures--Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, Roy Wilkins, Rosa Parks, John Lewis-- and then this startling descent to rock bottom in the person of Sharpton, a scam artist who's never done a thing for the civil rights movement or for anyone to my knowledge. His models were James Brown and Adam Clayton Powell, but he inherited the worst of Powell, who despite his flamboyance and flim flam had some substance, some real achievements to his credit and a good mind. On the positive side, I think Sharpton is the end of a shameful and passing era. He has nothing in common with Barack Obama or Harold Ford or Henry Louis Gates.

Chomsky: Arch Puddington has written eloquently about him in Commentary. As with the most virulent other Jewish anti-Semites, therapy is called for, but 40 years of it won't dispel his rage at his father. Alan Dershowitz said it best when he commented that Chomsky is unreadable and no one gets through his books anyway.

Kerry again, Dean and Al Gore: Gore is the Zelig of our time. I think we've come to the end of an era and these types have had their day. At least it seems that way from some of the types of moderate Democrats who recently won election. I could be wrong. The more I think of it, the more I like Schwartznegger's comical phrase, "girlie-man." I don't mean anything sexual by that, but there's something so inauthentic about Kerry, Dean and Gore, something unnatural. Think of Dean's shriek. Think of Kerry cursing a reporter as a "son of a bitch" because he got in his way by mistake, causing him to fall off his skiis. Gore has had so many transmutations of personality and weight I've given up. He remains very, very boring. My favorite recent Gore is his running to the podium at the Move On conference to show how relevant, in-shape and dynamic he was. Wasn't he wearing a Nehru jacket or am I imagining it?

Waters: She's really special. she radiates a free-floating chaos, inchoateness and incoherence, laced with hate. She's always wrong, no matter what she touches on. Acutally, I think she's very hard to follow on a rational level. I really don't follow much of what she says, but I do enjoy watching her in much the same way I enjoy Kerry, Dean and Gore. But she's even more far out somehow and her grasp on things seems a bit wavy.

Moore: Moore at least looks the part of a full-time hater. What you see is what you get. He is a public enemy.

FP: What makes you angry?

Evanier: Hatred of the United States. I cannot imagine the barbarism that would engulf the world without the existence of America. The phrase that enrages me is the one that says that other cultures have higher morals and more civilized standards of conduct. This is the new version of the phrase Communists used in the old days: "It would never be allowed to happen in the Soviet Union." I will close with two incidents that I'm sure will be derided by all of the leftwing historical revisionists and postmodernists who scorn expressions of genuine feeling, sentiment, emotion, patriotism and love for America and Israel as archaic and old-fashioned, and save their sentiment, emotion and "understanding" exclusively for the latest tyrants and murderers in the world, and for the useful idiots here who defend them.

When I was living in Vancouver in 1975, (it was my first teaching job) I was subjected to an endless barrage of Canadian nationalism which attacked America as uncouth, aggressive and destructive. One day I heard the extraordinary Ray Charles recording of "America the Beautiful." I felt chills going up my spine. Imagine what that version sounds like at first hearing. I turned to my wife Dini and said, "It's time to go home." And we did, to New York.

In 2001 we were living in Hollywood, and subjected to a similar barrage of hate-America sentiments. Lolling in their swimming pools, high on whatever, relaxed from their two-hour massages, living incredibly easy lives, almost every beautiful person we met had told us that America was a fascist country and the scourge of the world. And then 9/11 occurred. We knew we had to go home. It is never easy to make a major move. Within months, we were back in Brooklyn, and I was taking my daily walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into my beloved Manhattan.

FP: David Evanier, it was an immense pleasure and privilege to speak with you. Thank you kindly for taking the time out to share your profound wisdom and fascinating life with us.
Evanier: Thank you.

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