Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, I contacted Tony Judt and told him about my book, and he said it sounded fantastic and had an excellent chance of being published. He sent me the contact info for his agent, one of the top agents at one of the top agencies in the world. The agent got back to me quickly and sent me an internal review of my book, which was a rave:
FAST TIMES IN PALESTINE is an extremely powerful, deeply moving, and potentially far-reaching book that fills what is truly an unacceptable gap in popular understanding of the Israel/Palestine situation (and the Arab world in general) by giving a face to the Palestinians, so often demonized or ignored by Western press, experts, and laypeople alike. It is also a pleasure to read. Olson is a sympathetic and relatable narrator who, like many readers, has very little knowledge of the Middle East beyond news blurbs and stereotypes before she travels there herself. She skillfully guides readers through her travels and encounters, gradually building on our knowledge of the region so that, by the later parts of the book, she is tackling complex political and historical issues in a way that is accessible to all.
Although some critics may argue that she is clearly beholden to Palestine, I found that her comments were generally balanced and well-researched, and her time deliberately spent in Israel and among Jewish friends prevents her story from seeming too one-sided. The book also succeeds as a tender and fascinating portrait of a culture about which generally very little is known (and much is misunderstood) in the Western world. Discussions of cuisine, garb, architecture, daily prayer, holidays and festivals, family structure, relationships, leisure activities, women’s rights, and the Koran are seamlessly woven into Pamela’s well-crafted personal narrative. Her account is rife with intimate and evocative descriptions of the places she visits and memorable portraits of the people she meets along the way.
Olson’s account is at once funny, gorgeous, shocking, and (I think) galvanizing. Her story manages to be heartbreaking and yet believably hopeful at the same time. I strongly feel that this is an intelligent, important piece of work that is sure to generate dialogue and elicit impassioned responses from any and all sides (and probably change quite a few minds as well).
Olson has also put together a clear and convincing submission document, including an explanation of the book’s unique purpose, simplified chapter summaries, and an analysis of the current market and competition for her book. I think that this project would fit in well at our agency and I highly recommend pursuing it.
The bad news is, the lead agent overruled the reviewer and turned me down, saying his agency was extremely busy and he didn’t “have a sufficiently clear publishing vision for the book for it to make sense for me here.” When I asked him if he could offer a more specific reason, he said “I don’t see anything I would suggest you change.” Then he implied that books on Israel/Palestine are hard to market unless the author is a Harvard professor or a former President. “But,” he added, “what I will also tell you after 20 years in the industry is that someone else can call my darkness light and make an enormous success of the book.”
It’s a promising start. And it’s amazing to know that at least one discriminating reader had precisely the reaction I was hoping for when I started writing this book more than two years ago.
It will find its place, inshallah. Onward and upward.