Dear Ms. Rooney,
Let me admit it right away: I haven’t read your work, and I didn’t watch the screen adaptation of Normal People on Netflix. But I know many people did, including some of my own children. The consensus is that you are a fabulous talent.
The word on the street and in social media is that you are the voice of the millennial generation. You’ve created a voice at once unique and simultaneously one that captures the zeitgeist of your generation and your times.
I congratulate you on your enormous success. To become a writer takes hard work. It can be brutal putting yourself out there in print, subject to the slings and arrows of critics. But based on my cursory research, your reception has been very positive. You’re no flash in the pan. At age 30, you are a literary force to be reckoned with.
This open letter has nothing to do with the contents of your fiction or the style of writing you use to such good effect. The issue that motivates me to write this missive concerns your audacious decision regarding a Hebrew translation of your latest best-selling fiction, Beautiful World Where Are You.
You said that you were proud to have “Normal People” and “Conversations With Friends,” published in Hebrew. You also said, “Likewise, it would be an honor for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers. But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house… I do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and supports the U.N.-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people.”
You added that the Hebrew-language translation rights to the novel are still available and that if you can find a way to sell them and adhere to the B.D.S. movement’s guidelines, that you will be very pleased and proud to do so.”
I’m very critical of the Jewish State and the gross inequities that define the Arab-Israel conflict. There are so many egregious social, legal, and moral issues in play. That Israel must commit to peace and cooperation with the Palestinian people is essential. The lack of movement on this front pains me deeply.
However, it’s worth noting that many Israelis and Palestinians are working together to do what they can to bring about change on a grassroots level. It’s slow going, but it’s real. The commitment to ameliorate this decades-long struggle is an admirable dimension of Israeli-Arab dialogue and action.
You seem to admire the B.D.S. (Boycott Defund Sanction) movement. It’s a big deal in the Western world today. I imagine that your refusal to allow your novel to be translated into Hebrew unless you vet the publisher’s political stance is a variation on the B.D.S. theme.
It is so discouraging that a gifted young author would act in this way. You exhibit no sense of the political and cultural nuances of your actions. There are undoubtedly people applauding your bold statement. But let’s face it: pillorying Israel is so easy.
Now you become a hero of the anti-Zionist left. Various Palestinian committees and organizations delight in your taking up the cause. Like Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, your stage provides you the opportunity to take pot shots. I know you’re not an antisemite. And I’m not accusing you of that.
I suggest that by preventing Hebrew-speaking readers from sharing your insights through fiction, you are losing your power to inspire and motivate them. By turning your back on the Hebrew language – the language – you insult a deep Jewish tradition of learning and reading.
I am neither the first nor the last to suggest that this action of yours is easy. After all, how many readers will you lose? A hundred thousand at the most? How much money will you lose? Not too much. What if you refused the Chinese or Russian editions of Beautiful World Where Are You. There’s no lack of nations doing horrible things to their citizens. But that’s big bucks.
In fact, why publish in any language? Why not boycott all forms of expression until the world becomes what you want it to be? Hold back as an act of political defiance.
Ms. Rooney, we need works of art, expressions of conscience. Your singling out Israel from other nations is a cheap trick, a dance for the feckless, ineffective B.D.S. movement. I wish you luck with your writing career. And I hope you’ll mature into a great writer. In the meantime, it would serve you well to reconsider.
Dear Sally Rooney
Dear Ms. Rooney,