They make a strange couple, Robert Clark Young and Isabel Allende. But the First Amendment has brought them together since both writers have been targeted by people who find their work offensive.
In Allende's case, a woman in Suisun is up in arms about "The House of the Spirits," a novel about three generations of family life in an unnamed South American country.
The woman wants the book removed from the Suisun-Fairfield high school reading list.
Yes, Allende wrote about rape and sex in that novel, a book that is still in print after 20 years and is widely read. She also wrote about political oppression and terrorism, a violent revolution and war between the classes.
Contacted at her Sausalito office last week, Allende wasn't in the least perturbed by the flap over her book. It's been targeted before, she said. Her response is simple: If you don't like it, don't read it. But don't attempt to censor it.
"Censorship should not be allowed in the United States," she said.
Both Young, a resident of Sacramento and a UC Davis graduate, and Allende, in separate conversations, sounded mystified regarding the one-way objections to their work. It's all about sex, they agreed. The brutal historical facts fictionalized in their novels are far more horrifying unless you think it's OK for the U.S. Navy to condone teen-age prostitution and the exploitation of Asian women overseas or for any government to kidnap and murder its own or other people.
I'm not saying Young's book, "One of the Guys," is pretty. It's not.
"The novel strongly satirizes the sexual practices of U.S. sailors and Marines in the Far East, but the purpose of the book is to expose these practices and institutional attitudes in order to ridicule them," Young said.
In 1996, while he was teaching in Ohio, Young received a $5,000 grant from the Ohio Arts Council to write "One of the Guys." The council receives some of its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
That's when the American Family Association, a group based in Tupelo, Miss., came into the picture. They are trying to stop Congress from funding "garbage" through the NEA.
I called Tim Wildmon, vice president of the AFA, to talk to him about his objections to Young's book. I felt the energy being drained from my body as I reached for the phone. I felt like I was about to watch another Bush/Gore debate: He wasn't going to change my mind, and I wasn't going to change his.
So when Wildmon said: "I stand behind what we said in the press release," I decided not to get into a debate. Instead, I told him that his accent reminded me of another Southerner I'd once talked to, and we chatted amicably for a few minutes about the late Willie Morris.
It turned out Wildmon was eager to see the film version of Morris' book, "My Dog Skip." I urged him to see it or read the book.
I figured that if Wildmon could connect to Morris (a very left-of-center guy politically) through their Southern heritage, perhaps another connection could be made later on. Or maybe not. Maybe there will always be groups like the AFA determined to rid the world of anything they deem offensive.
In that case, groups like the Ohio Arts Council ought to show some courage and stand behind the artists and writers they fund. In Young's case, as soon as the Ohio Arts Council got a whiff of something politically unpleasant in the air, they went running and are now using the "Bob who?" line of defense.
"They made me what I am today," said Young. "They should stand behind me."
He added that the scene in the book that has generated the most controversy is an actual stage show that U.S. servicemen often view in Manila, as well as in the sex resort of Pattaya Beach, Thailand, where U.S. Navy ships often anchor for recreational purposes as opposed to strategic reasons.
"The Navy forbids personnel on overseas liberty from frequenting gay clubs, and will drum a sailor out of the service merely for being gay, yet the Navy does not forbid its personnel from frequenting clubs where child prostitution and other forms of exploitative entertainment occur," Young said.
"The American Family Association is not criticizing the U.S. military for these practices, nor calling for a reduction in the military budget. "Instead, they are attacking me for accepting a government grant to write a book exposing and criticizing these practices, and they are using that as an excuse to oppose government funding of the arts," he added.
For those who want to know more, "One of the Guys" is now out in paperback.
Eric Paul Shaffer, Ph.D., a UC Davis graduate and former teacher who now lives in Hawaii, read Young's book.
"This book is definitely one of the best books about the contemporary military experience that I've read," he said. "I taught military people on Okinawa for three years, and some of the stories I heard were truly horrifying. Bob's depiction is right up there near the top of the worst stories I heard, but he relates these incidents to wake people up to what is happening in the ranks.
"I think it makes its point very well," said Shaffer. "In no way is it pornography."
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