Captain America punching Hitler.
(Marvel Comics)

Why Are Romance Books Featuring Nazis Still Going to Auction? Please Stop.

Apparently, Nazi romance books are still a thing in 2022.

Last weekend, Emily Everett shared a celebratory screenshot, on Twitter, of a Publisher’s Deal Report after Putnam acquired her 2023 debut novel, Heartland. Once people started to read what the book was about, Everett limited who could reply to her thread, as people began to point out the mild language used in the book’s description in comparison to the actual subject matter of the book.

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“…Emily Everett’s, HEARTLAND, pitched as in the vein of Kristin Hannah, a story set on American soil during World War II about the secret relationship between a young woman and a German POW assigned to work on her family’s Iowa farm that causes each to question who they are, what they desire, and their complicity in an unforgiving war, shining a light on the little-known history of POW camps in the expansive American Midwest…”

While some celebrated this win for Everett, many others quickly noticed that this enemies-to-lovers novel featured another example of this romance trope going too far. At least this time, the story isn’t about a Nazi officer and detained Jewish woman falling in love, amirite?

https://twitter.com/talossiannights/status/1501239373563678728?
https://twitter.com/AWryneckWrites/status/1501300744825106432

As if this situation could get any worse, an editor on behalf of Putnam Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House) bid for this book. Multiple editors wanted this book, despite the gross detail of a Nazi being the main love interest.

https://twitter.com/wickedjamison/status/1501101008797249538?
https://twitter.com/katee_robert/status/1501029462602764288?

POW Camps in the U.S.

Another issue is that this topic is fascinating and not well known, meaning it is ripe for exploration in narrative form. In addition to concentration camps where the U.S. held those of Japanese Ancestry, the military set up several POW camps (hosting over 400,000 people) across the South and Midwest. There are interesting real-life stories about Jewish GIs guarding German POWs in the U.S. Personally, I’m not looking for a romance that features anyone in the military, but those GIs would at least make better romantic leads for this subject matter than Nazis.

Nazis were not the only people in these camps. During the war, many people fleeing Eastern Europe or first-generation people from Axis nations were picked up in Latin America (without their passports) by the U.S. and brought here for detainment. When there wasn’t enough evidence to hold them legally (like evidence they served in the German military), the U.S. would charge them for illegally crossing the border. There are plenty of other options for this kind of story that don’t seek to give a Nazi a redemption arc.

The role of the editor who fought for the book

Something under-discussed is the editor who acquired the book, even though her name clear as day on the report: Tara Singh Carlson. Carlson’s relationship with Penguin Random House spans 12 years as a now-experienced editor. One of her first (if not still, to date, her most) high-profile book acquisitions was Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing. Carlson’s success in acquiring and promoting Owens’ novel aided in papering over a real-life incident of colonial racism and murder (shared on camera by ABC in 1996 and profiled again in 2010).

Though Owens wrote books documenting her time across Southern Africa, Where the Crawdads Sing was her first novel. With the help of Carlson, Owens became known for this book instead of her connection to the murder of an alleged poacher in Zambia. In Owens’ novel, Owens’ real life (allegedly), and Everrett’s story, redemption is afforded to whoever is defined as white at that moment, despite murder and complicity in violence. Owens’ book (which has multiple connections to events in her life) became a New York Times and Amazon bestseller.

After being highlighted in Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Owens nabbed a movie deal set for a 2023 release. Instead of learning from this mistake of making Owens even more wealthy, Carlson continues to choose violence, much like book editor Amy Einhorn, who acquired white-women-doing-the-most-books The Help and then American Dirt. Editors like Einhorn and Carlson hold so much power and influence over culture even if the average reader may not know their name. Publishing houses (and its imprints) are made up of individuals (like these editors and their teams) making decisions about who/what stories get told and how much they’re gonna fight for them compared to other books they acquire.

(via Twitter, image: Marvel)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.