word craft


National histories

All nations have cre­ation myths. That is, the exist­ing state shapes the ori­gins sto­ries of the par­tic­u­lar coun­try to empha­size the pos­i­tive and reduce the neg­a­tive as it per­tains to the rul­ing estab­lish­ment, rul­ing indi­vid­u­als, or even estab­lished gov­ern­ments. This is espe­cial­ly true of dic­ta­tor­ships, but it is also true—if to a far less­er degree—of democracies.

The only time I have ever learned of a state doing oth­er­wise, was the “Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” process that South Africa went through. I has­ten to say I have no way of judg­ing its effec­tive­ness or whether it achieved its goals. 

Com­mu­nist states are noto­ri­ous for rewrit­ing his­to­ry. And today Rus­sia, which, in my view, is an oli­garchy, has recent­ly, closed down the major inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to keep­ing a record of its Stal­in­ist past.

Eng­land, in its trou­bled (to say the least) his­to­ry of its rela­tion­ship with Ire­land, has, from time to time, tried to deny or sup­press that history.

His­to­ry gives us plen­ty of oth­er examples.

And the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca has its own share of his­tor­i­cal denial.


This brings me to my just-pub­lished book, Loy­al­ty.

We don’t think (much less teach) that our War of Inde­pen­dence was, in many respects, a civ­il war. Fam­i­lies were split. An easy exam­ple: Ben­jamin Franklin’s son was a staunch Loy­al­ist. But plen­ty of Colonists fought on the British side, orga­nized into parts of the British Army. There were reli­gious divi­sions as well, with the Church of England—understandably—aligning itself with the Crown, while oth­er Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions aligned them­selves against the Crown.

And what posi­tion did the fifth of the population—the enslaved peoples—take? Or the native peo­ples? Whose side were they on? And why?

There are a num­ber of his­to­ries that delve into all this. The best, in my view, is Scars of Inde­pen­dence, by Hol­ger Hoock. In any case, let me assure you our ear­ly his­to­ry is com­plex and fascinating.

Which is what caught my atten­tion and led me to the writ­ing of Loy­al­ty. Could I write an engag­ing, excit­ing sto­ry about a teenage boy who comes from a fam­i­ly of Mass­a­chu­setts loy­al­ists, suf­fers the con­se­quences of that at the hands of rebels only to become caught up in the roil­ing buildup toward the war for independence?

What hap­pens to him? His fam­i­ly? His friends? In par­tic­u­lar, what is his rela­tion­ship to a free Black per­son who looks at the sit­u­a­tion in his own way?

School Library Jour­nal, in a starred review, wrote: “A fas­ci­nat­ing, com­plex and rarely seen view of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War; a first purchase.”

Book­list wrote: “Avi brings read­ers into the story’s time and place, not spar­ing the real­i­ties of war, and deal­ing authen­ti­cal­ly with Noah’s [the book’s pro­tag­o­nist] emo­tions. Inclu­sive and objec­tive. The work deliv­ers his­tor­i­cal food for thought and a great read.”

The New York Times: “Young read­ers who make it through the siege of Boston with [Noah] will be reward­ed with a nov­el that chal­lenges their ideas of Amer­i­can his­to­ry and their notions of loy­al­ty and patriotism.”

The Horn Book: “The sto­ry is spiked with live­ly dia­logue, espe­cial­ly as Jol­la [the oth­er main char­ac­ter in the book, a free Black young man] and Noah sort out how they feel about ‘being in a place where there are all kinds of slavery.’”

Here’s hop­ing you give the book a read.

3 thoughts on “National histories”

  1. Thank you for telling the oth­er side of the rev­o­lu­tion. This is def­i­nite­ly a book I’m going to pick up.

  2. Oh, I can’t wait to check this out. I already have it pre-pur­chased on audible 🙂 

    It’s always inter­est­ing to learn from your his­tor­i­cal obser­va­tions. WWII. What a human cat­a­stro­phe. Ish­mael (Daniel Quin­n’s philo­soph­i­cal gueril­la) described it from his unique point of view: it looked like human­i­ty’s sui­cide attempt. 

    Avi? You put it in plain­er terms. Amer­i­cans earned what for their suf­fer­ing? The alarm clock. Say, that book of yours was just beau­ti­ful. In a seper­ate book, you real­ly got the red-scare and gave it some human­i­ty: “catch you lat­er, trai­tor.” Me and my 13YO daugh­ter loved that girl, btw.

    My baby got me to watch Hamil­ton last week­end. The per­for­mance was mind-blow­ing. But tru­ly, it was inter­est­ing to take a look at Amer­i­ca’s first of many wars. (Sigh). I’m eager to hear what you have to say on the matter.

    Avi, you are a trea­sure. Stay strong, we need you 🙂


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