Here’s the review in question.
Trading Tatiana, by Debi Alper (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £10.99)
Orphaned at 18 (hippy mother under train; father unknown), Jo Cooper is a soft touch for a hard-luck case. She gets by, selling candles at Greenwich market and babysitting for her neighbours in a council high-rise on the Old Kent Road. On a day trip to Brighton, she meets Tatiana, a teenage Ukrainian on the run from a nasty bunch of mullet-haired, leather-jacketed compatriots, and gets embroiled in a story of people-trafficking, prostitution and extortion. Debi Alper's follow-up to Nirvana Bites revisits the south London milieu. While her characters never move beyond stereotype and her plot is as fresh as a car-boot sale, her clunky prose wins the prize for unintentional hilarity: "The brothers had split up and would trap her like an eyebrow hair in tweezers"; "Blythe clung to my hand like a Black and Decker Workmate." To top it all, Alper's blasé attitude to Russian betrays her as a writer who'd appropriate any old cause for effect.
Ouch! We all know that, by their very nature, reviews are subjective. No one has ever written a book that everyone either loves or hates and I defend the right of ES – or anyone else – to dislike my novels. So although I disagree with her literary criticisms I absolutely accept her right to express them (even when she misquotes the text!).
No, what I really object to is the final sentence - Alper's blasé attitude to Russian betrays her as a writer who'd appropriate any old cause for effect – which as far as I’m concerned moves away from literary criticism and into vitriolic personal attack – although I’ve never met the woman and she clearly has done no research into my background.
Is she upset by my attitude to the Russian language? The people? It’s unclear exactly what she has a problem with – apart from the fact that I’ve obviously hit a raw nerve somewhere along the line. Anyone who bothers to check could find out about my political commitment (see the biog on my website). While we’re at it, I should state that my father’s parents were from the Ukraine and my mother’s were from Russia and Bessarabia. But that really isn’t the point.
My objection is to her portraying me as someone who would ‘appropriate’ the suffering of women like Tatiana and Nadia for my own benefit. I was devastated that people who don’t know me would have no reason to reject her analysis. As a new author, with few other national reviews to provide balance, why should anyone disbelieve her version? A new author is such an easy target. I had no means of replying or defending myself. If I wrote to the letters page, all I would succeed in doing is drawing attention to her review. Many people, outraged on my behalf, tried to comfort me on the grounds that:
- at least my book had provoked a strong response·
- lots of people don’t read reviews anyway
- those that do, often forget the content of the review and just remember the book title.