What Has He Done To Deserve This?

Life Imitates Fiction in James Lasdun's Engrossing Memoir

An Atypical Victim: James Lasdun at home in upstate New York.
Naomi Zeveloff
An Atypical Victim: James Lasdun at home in upstate New York.

By Susan Comninos

Published February 26, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
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Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked
By James Lasdun
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 224 pages, $25

A small boy flees across a bridge. Assassins follow, begging for a taste of his blood to eat with dessert: “to top off the honey.” Eventually, the boy surrenders his head, submitting to his beheaders’ crazed illogic: This is what he owes them.

Fans of Israeli poet Yona Wallach (1944–1985) will recognize the plot from her famed poem “Yonatan,” which evokes a host of Jewish tragedies. While he doesn’t cite the poem in his new book, Jewish writer and teacher James Lasdun revisits its scene of being chased by a raging force, but this time one armed with cyber power, not swords. He explores being harassed by a former student whose writing he championed — a Muslim woman who makes anti-Semitism her weapon of choice and the Internet her battlefront — in his dark, literate and startlingly compassionate memoir, “Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked.”

How one becomes a lightning rod for hate — and its inverse: obsessed love — drives his inquiry into his own psyche, and that of his stalker. Lasdun is the author of 12 books, including gothic poetry and fiction (“Landscape With Chainsaw,” “The Horned Man”) and travel guides (“Walking and Eating in Provence,” co-written by his wife, Pia Davis).

Politically, his sympathy tends toward Palestinians. Consequently, he perceives his situation’s oddness: “I am not a supporter of Israel’s military policy, let alone any kind of Zionist,” he writes, “so it was very strange to find myself cast suddenly as some kind of would-be silencer of Arabs.” He’s referring here to canards circulated online by his stalker, accusing him of, among other things, leading a Jewish cabal to steal her ideas and plot her rape.

Her grandiosity would be laughable if it didn’t smack of nightmare. Yet how Lasdun first encounters the Iranian-born Nasreen (his pseudonym for her, meaning “white rose”) fits the dream of many literary aspirants: She takes his writing course. After reading two chapters of her debut novel, set in Tehran, he recommends her to his agent.

Lasdun’s sense of Nasreen’s talent seems real, but he knows little about her. Her reserve in class he attributes to quiet self-confidence; her sallow complexion, he thinks, mirrors his own; her talk of a fiancé “accorded with my sense of her as a writer,” he says.

And so it begins. Nasreen emails him for advice on revisions to her novel, one deemed promising by his agent but not yet publishable. In turn, he asks her sociology questions: What is it like to be Muslim in post-9/11 New York? As a practitioner of Islam, what does she think of veils?


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