YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


January 16, 1994

William Griffin, who reviewed our book "Saints Preserve Us" on Oct. 31, 1993, did not seem to like it--which is his right. But when he suggests that we "confabulate(d) with a little fancy and fable," and that we "assigned Saints . . . as patrons," he manages simultaneously to miss our point and reveal his own ignorance. Confabulating and assigning were precisely what we did not do. However disinclined he may have been to "put any credence at all" in our bibliography, had Griffin taken the trouble to consult even a single text of the "hagiography" of which he is so famously fond--for example, "Butler's Lives of the Patron Saints"--he would have found that the three examples of patronage he explicitly calls into question (Joseph of Cupertino, of astronauts; Zita, of domestic servants; Onuphrius, of weavers) are all absolutely authentic, sanctioned by Catholic tradition, and still popular among the faithful of the world (if not of Griffin's immediate acquaintance). Your reviewer may be "not without humor when it comes to hagiography" (if he does say so himself). But he is without qualification . . . or a clue.



I'm sure that the Los Angeles Times will want to correct a major inaccuracy in Bettyann Kevles' review of my "An Eye for an Eye" (View Book Review, Dec. 23). I never suggest that 75% of the "factotums" in the Office of State Security in Poland in 1945 were Jews. I do say that Jacob Berman, the chief of the office, and all or almost all the department chiefs were Jews, something that scholars have known since the 1940s and '50s. I also say that 75% of the officers --the lieutenants, captains and majors, including the director of the office, the director of prisons, and secretary of state security, and many camp commandants--in the Polish province of Silesia were Jews, something I learned from the only source that would know it: the Jews themselves. Since they appointed the commandant at Lamsdorf (who hung out at the Jewish Club but said he was a Catholic) and since they often inspected the camp at Lamsdorf, Kevles is also wrong in saying that at Lamsdorf, "There is no evidence that Jews were involved at all." I'm sure Kevles wouldn't say that Germans weren't involved in the many camps that were run by Germans but staffed by Ukrainians like Ivan the Terrible.

Kevles says that the number of Jews in the Office of State Security was 1.7%. Her source, though she doesn't say so, is Boleslaw Bierut, the Communist president of Poland in 1945. Most scholars, of course, do not accept statistics of Bierut, Stalin and Mao. To begin with, how did Bierut calculate it? Almost all the Jews in the office changed their names to Polish ones like Tadeusz Zaleswski, Bolek Jurkowski and Stanislaw Niegoslawski, and some, when they died, were even buried in Catholic cemeteries. They never told Boleslaw Bierut or anyone in the office except other Jews that they were Jews.

Finally, the German prisoners. Twice, Kevles calls them German war criminals, but, as I say in "An Eye for an Eye," fewer than 1% were ever convicted of war crimes and 99% were innocent civilians.



In one shattering month, Dec., 1993, it has been breathily, clinically, earnestly, gleefully, delicately, above all understandingly disclosed to this innocent old man that Daphne du Maurier and Gertrude Lawrence were lovers, that Danny Kaye and Olivier "had a fling," that Benjamin Britten . . . that Aaron Copland . . . that John Maynard Keynes. . .

Oh, I guess I knew, but at least I never blabbed. Please tell me you "understand."



With all due respect to John Schulian's accomplishments as a writer for superior TV shows, I can't help but wonder if his taste has terminally tottered when it comes to his review of Lawrence Block's latest Scudder novel, "The Devil Knows You're Dead" (Dec. 12, 1993).

Admitting that the book is deliberately "noirish," that is to say, dark, moody and intelligent, Schulian is disappointed because sleuth Scudder is found only in psychological jeopardy and not physical trial. What Schulian forgets is that the keenest suspense is psychological.

Few authors can create the textured terrain of a Block or a Burke, and damn few authors (or their editors) have the courage to break free of the smothering conventions of the genre. The reading audience for those few writers who clearly are writing literature and not just forgettable potboilers will be smaller than it should be. But without the energized, courageous reachings within the art of storytelling, we stay at the pointless level of the overfed and dull.

As for the comment that perhaps Block doesn't do enough self-promotion, I counted the number of appearances on his recent book tour: 53. Makes me tired of thinking of it. If his audience is smaller than it should be, it's because he's smarter than he should be for America's brows.

Readers, go get his book. He deserves your purchase, you deserve his gifts.



For a biography of Mary Ellen "Mammy" Pleasant, the 19th-Century San Franciscan and "mother of California's civil rights," I am seeking photos, letters and family reminiscences.

ROBERTA OSTROFF, c/o Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., Crown/Random House, 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022

Los Angeles Times Articles