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Reality Fiction

"Reality Fiction" Continued...

Issue: "John Paul II: In memoriam," Oct. 25, 2003

The journalist/novelist split, however, is not the only one calculated to puzzle Rosenberg readers. "Is Mr. Rosenberg just a good storyteller," someone might understandably ask-"or does he have some message behind his story?" The question might be prompted by either the political or the religious themes in the books.

Mr. Rosenberg, after all, is enthusiastic about his Christian convictions, but not too distant from his Jewish heritage. So it's not surprising to find woven into his tales a nuanced endorsement of the Christian gospel and a deft backing for the state of Israel. Neither is as explicit on either front as is Tyndale House's hugely successful Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. But Mr. Rosenberg, while sharing some leanings with the LaHaye-Jenkins approach, has kept his plots-at least so far-this side of any big end-times and overtly eschatological events. The book's title, The Last Days, seems to be a deliberately ambiguous come-on, and for some will promise more than it delivers.

"It was the publisher who wanted something more apocalyptic," Mr. Rosenberg insists. And that's unusual considering the publisher-Tor/Forge of New York City-is a secular publishing house. Did he feel any pressure to throttle back his Christian content in order to make his fiction more palatable to a broader audience? Mr. Rosenberg says he was "a bit anxious at first" that publishers or editors might have insisted he soft-pedal his worldview, but they have "been incredibly supportive."

"What's cool is that it's paying off for them."

In one understated, believable, and nonformulaic passage, one of The Last Days's main characters becomes a Christian by acknowledging his own sinfulness and the plan of God for salvation. The passage is authentic partly because the dialogue at that point is so consistent with the international crisis surrounding it. "When you're trying to solve a mystery," says one of the characters, "the best place to go is to your most trustworthy source." It's a quietly stated argument for biblical authority that makes good sense in its context.

That's Mr. Rosenberg's desire: "to develop a tool for people to share their faith by giving people a New York Times bestseller with the gospel tucked inside."

The argument for Israel is a bit more heavy-handed, although perhaps integral to the plot. The fictional plot's focus is on reaching agreement on a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians. But when the account spells out over half a dozen pages an actual eight-point "U.S. Proposal for Peace and Prosperity," you can't escape the sense that Mr. Rosenberg really believes his ideas might form the basis for a real-life agreement. After all, the Bush administration's so-called "Roadmap" for peace in the Mideast was pronounced all but dead just last week-so why shouldn't the next proposal come from a novel?

But in fact, for all his pro-Israel leanings, Mr. Rosenberg takes pains repeatedly to identify with the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause. In one moving passage, he even helps the reader enter the sad psyche of a loyal follower of Saddam Hussein who vows to avenge the overthrow of his leader by staking out a life of terror against the United States.

In the end, Joel Rosenberg's stories are better seen as just good entertainment than as evangelistic or political tracts. As such, The Last Days may have significant commercial potential over the next few weeks. The Last Jihad is now approaching some 300,000 copies in print and the publisher thinks the Rosenberg sequel will do even better. To show that their expectations are more than mere optimism, Tor/Forge executives gave Mr. Rosenberg an advance of over a million dollars for the manuscript for The Last Days-and ordered 180,000 copies of the book's first printing.

All that may be a test of Mr. Rosenberg's own eschatological expectations (he calls himself "a strategic optimist but a tactical pessimist"). But he acknowledged that at least in terms of the next few months, he'd really prefer a peace settlement in the Middle East to the apocalyptic and cataclysmic ending that a phrase like The Last Days suggests. "That's what the region needs."

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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