Summing up a 600-page book in a small newspaper article isn’t easy, but if you enjoy politics, current events, and the idea of three little girls saving the world from a government conspiracy involving many of the politicians whose names have become infamous in the last eight years, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Irving Hall’s first novel, The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys.
In the days leading up to the 2000 presidential election, three young Jewish girls are assigned with an astronomical task. They must keep George W. Bush from stealing the election, starting wars and bringing about the end of the world, all in the name of Christian fundamentalism. It may sound like a difficult job for three young girls, but with a little help from their sassy bus driver Angela, and a stage shy Jesus who returns to earth to correct the Christian misconception of his message, anything is possible.
The Einstein Sisters Bag the Flying Monkeys is a political satire set in Florida in the tumultuous days leading up to the 2000 presidential election. Seen through the eyes of Tina, Norma and Maxine Einstein, the great, great granddaughters of Albert Einstein, Hall’s story recounts a tale of corrupt politicians working to fool the American people in a conspiracy that could potentially cause Armageddon.
The girls, each with a brilliant young mind and ideas all her own, are put to the test when their parents abandon them in the name of Zionism, suddenly ditching their Democratic principles and embracing the Republican war machine. Tina, Norma and Maxine are abruptly shifted from the open education of home school to the more rigorous Ten Commandments model school system, where physical contact is forbidden, prayers are heard every day and their principal wants to help world leaders bring about nuclear war as a way to hurry along the rapture.
After a warm welcome for the school’s first Jewish students, the three girls think Shepherd’s Vale is a wonderful change from the traditional home school system they are used to, but it isn’t long before they realize they are surrounded by students and teachers who believe the Bible is a literal account of what is going on in the world today. With tensions already high in the Middle East, the girls discover that Principal Moriah Godley wants to convince all Jewish people to return to Israel, take back the land, and help bring about the end of the world.
Competing with Godley, the girls have just a few days to make the students and teachers at Shepherd’s Vale see the error of their depressing belief system and embrace the true message that the kind and compassionate Jesus wants to spread. However, the girls are operating in a limited window of time and soon they discover that it is not just the school they have to educate, but also the political and social leaders who could easily bring about the destruction of the country and the world.
With many political and world leaders making guest appearances throughout the text, Hall’s novel is packed full of information that anyone with a moderate recollection of political affairs will probably recall, and by showing these events through the eyes of adolescents, the complicated topics and events are surprisingly understandable. After eight years with the country’s current administration, Hall seems to paint a humorous picture of how the country got to be in its current state, and how things could have gone a little differently. Although the book is over 600 pages in length, the story of the unique family and their Einstein Sisters’ Theory of Responsibility keeps the reader interested throughout.
Hall will be signing copies of his novel from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, at First Edition book store in Norwich.
Gruettner: From what I’ve read of your book, its primary focus is the 2000 election in Florida and how the outcome (and events leading up to it) will affect America and the world. What would you say inspired you to write this book and how did you arrive at the title?
Hall: The Republican Party’s transparent theft of the 2000 election in Florida provided the inspiration. It was the tipping point for the country, the world, and me. Since then, every day that I experience personally the consequences of the disastrous military, economic, and ecological policies of the Bush-Cheney administration, I am angered by the endless chain of crimes that has grown from the first one—the shameless violation of America’s precious tradition of free elections.
By 2000 I had been developing my literary skills and voice as a writer for years here in the lush and friendly northern Catskills of New York State—without attempting to publish. The January 2001 inauguration of criminals in Washington, D.C., forced me to channel my outrage into a popular political satire in the tradition of Swift, Voltaire, and Twain. I immersed myself in creating the almost completed “prequel” to The Einstein Sisters that is tentatively titled The Wicked Witch of Tallahassee.
The three Einstein sisters effectively sidelined The Wicked Witch by hijacking the earlier story and creating their own novel. Here’s how it happened. The Wicked Witch is, of course, Katherine Harris, the slick Florida millionaire and Ssecretary of state, who provided the public face of the conspiracy to steal the presidency.
My earlier book starred elderly Florida poll workers who stage a performance of The Wizard of Oz to insure a 100 percent voter turnout in a Jewish retirement community whose residents wind up casting every vote for Joseph Lieberman, the first Jewish vice presidential candidate of a major party. Then the old folks are driven to organize their World War II veteran and Holocaust survivor neighbors to prevent Harris from stealing the election by exhibiting both septuagenarian stubbornness and Jewish liberal values.
The Oz folks’ first challenge seemed insurmountable—to recruit youngsters in the surrounding communities to play Dorothy and the Munchkins. The only kids willing to audition were—your guessed it!— Maxine, Norma, and Tina Einstein.
Blame Bush and Cheney’s illegal occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq for my not completing the Oz folks’ novel before the 2004 election as I had planned. Why?
The United States’ use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in both countries refocused my outrage toward this genocidal policy of the Republican militarists. Of course the fictional Oz folks recruited themselves to play the grown-ups in their play. Each oldster has a gripping history as a fighter or a survivor. All dream of a better future for the younger generation than the horrors they suffered. They bring to their dramatic characters bright hopes and dark grudges.
For instance, the Cowardly Lion’s Gulf War veteran daughter suffered horribly and died from Gulf War illness, caused in part by poisoning from President Bush Sr. and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s world premiere in 1991 of battlefield radiological warfare through depleted uranium munitions—against our own American troops.
The “syndrome” now affects more than half of the 700,000 men and women who served in the first Gulf War. The employment of hundreds of tons of DU in the later wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a death sentence for thousands of returning U.S. veterans and millions of native people throughout the Middle East.
DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Its atomized radioactive particles enter the world’s water, atmosphere, and food chain and become lodged in human organs like “time released” carcinogens. You probably breathed or ingested some today. The cancer rates in Iraq and Afghanistan have skyrocketed in the past five years. Over decades and millennia, the entire world population will be affected, especially the most vulnerable: children, the aged, the sick, the malnourished, and those without adequate health care in Third World countries and the United States.
The Cowardly Lion knew the facts but blamed his own deluded patriotism for his daughter’s death. How about Irving Wesley Hall, who spent years researching depleted uranium and the Gulf War?
I set aside the novel and wrote the “Depleted Uranium For Dummies” series that appeared on more than a hundred Web sites in 2006 and remains the most popular series on my Web site, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.
No, the Wicked Witch wasn’t published in time for the 2004 election.
That election—possibly also stolen—provided the inspiration for the Einstein sisters to channel my despair over the re-election of Bush and Cheney. How could it happen? The economy was sinking, the war was a quagmire, the Constitution was in shreds, the rich were getting much richer, the poor much poorer, the great American middle class of my youth was becoming an endangered species, and the corporations were quickly destroying the planet. How could millions of working class voters cast ballots against their own self-interest—and against those of the country and the world?
The answer? Poor Christian fundamentalists had become the rich Republicans’ road to power. Evangelicals had been conned by Karl Rove’s “anti-abortion and gay rights” strategy to elect millionaires to plunder and destroy the United States that ordinary Americans dearly love.
That’s how the fictional Einstein sisters wound up in a Ten Commandments model school and how Shepherd’s Vale Principal, Reverend Moriah Godley, and the real-life Flying Monkeys became the story’s villains.
The title naturally grew out of the novel’s central conflict. “Bag” was the hard part; there are many other juicy verbs that competed.
Gruettner: Are any of the fictional characters you’ve created (such as the Einstein sisters, Juanito, Angela, Moriah Godley, etc.) based upon people you know?
Hall: Of course, the librarian Ruth Bowdler is based on Almira Gulch, the Toto kidnapper in The Wizard of Oz. Juanito is suck-up ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez as a teenager. Aunt Katty is based on a spunky aunt—the family prude with a rich but secret sex life. My aunt also survived seven automobile accidents and lived past Aunt Katty’s age. Angela Jordan is based on the sweet and smart lady who maintained my Manhattan interior design studio before I moved to the country.
Moriah Godley’s ideological position was inspired by Reverend John Hagee, although the giant Godley dwarfs toady Hagee in every way. Nerdy Jonah, Joshua, and Jeremiah are like my high school friends in a fifties Southern California suburb. Some of us suffered humiliation by jocks and scorn from the cheerleaders.
The Einstein sisters? Honestly, they created themselves from whole cloth in the process of my writing the novel. Of course, they embody the values of “Grandpa” Albert Einstein whom I deeply admire. At first they were just the kids who rescued the poor Oz folks’ performance by agreeing to do the thirty-second Lullaby League gig from the movie. They were initially just bit players in the Wicked Witch novel. Hence their easily remembered names—once I decided they needed names. Tina was the tiniest child; Maxine the biggest one, and “normal” Norma was the middle kid.
Then the Einstein sisters stole the story.
Gruettner: What qualities characterize a “Flying Monkey”?
Hall: At first, the Flying Monkeys are Jewish neo-conservative Republicans like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith who carried off the girls’ formerly liberal parents to become neo-conservative warmongers in Washington. Tina named these Israel-American dual nationals after the Wicked Witch’s death squad because they fly Israel’s crazy hawks’ militaristic plans for the Middle East to Washington, D.C., for Bush and Cheney to implement with American blood and treasure.
Later in the novel, to everyone’s surprise, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith are joined at Shepherd’s Vale School by vulgar Tom DeLay, cynical Jack Abramoff, sinister Karl Rove, a flatulent Bush, and over-the-top paranoid Cheney. The kids call all of the Republican leaders Flying Monkeys because they lack all human compassion for the innocent people who will be killed and maimed as they pursue pure evil in the name of a bogus higher good.
Gruettner: How long did it take you to write this book?
Hall: The Wicked Witch took almost three years to create. The Einstein Sisters took only two years to write, plus an additional year of revision, thanks to the feedback from insightful readers of the manuscript drafts.
Gruettner: What do you hope your readers will get from your book?
Hall: Good question. A gripping, entertaining, and funny read. The understanding that ideas are important and can either save the species or incinerate the planet. The realization that common citizens—not political or economic elites—make history, through passivity, participation, or—as a last resort—revolution. However, citizens must produce their own leaders and develop political and economic solutions based on intelligent analysis and love of humanity not mindless superstition and barbaric tribalism.
The novel makes clear that the Christian Bible is up for grabs and can be used to elevate or to degrade humankind. The real Jesus of Nazareth requires the rescue of his basic life-affirming message from a centuries-long tradition of distortion by the rich and powerful who pervert his championship of the poor into a defense of the wealthy, his universal pacifism into bloody nationalist aggression.
Gruettner: What made you decide to have the Einstein sisters—who are Jewish—attend a Christian academy? AND wWas it for greater religious and cultural impact or as a means to compare the similarities and differences of these religions?
Hall: Another good question! Any good work of fiction is based on conflict. The Einstein Sisters’ struggle is religious, generational, and eternal. We often forget that Jesus of Nazareth died at a young age. He was a rebel against the sterile and self-serving conventional wisdom of the religious elders and political elites of his time. Both our Jewish girls and the Christian youngsters become conscious subversives against the deadly modern conventions of Zionism and Christian Zionism.
The Shepherd’s Vale kids choose the life-affirming message of the Gospels over the hate-filled ideology of the dispensationalist branch of Christian fundamentalism. Of course an alarmed Jesus of Nazareth plays a subversive role in the novel based upon the class-consciousness of the Gospels. Even his personality spoofs the aloof, ethereal, humorless, and occasionally arrogant character depicted in the Bible that we’ve inherited from unknown sources.
Maxine, Norma, and Tina reject the racist exclusivity and brutal militarism of Zionism in favor of the pre-State of Israel liberal tradition of American Judaism and the secular radicalism typified by Albert Einstein and the creative geniuses of the two Jewish socialists behind M-G-M’s The Wizard of Oz.
So, ironically, the Christian and Jewish children are driven by the hypocrisy of the adults to prove that authentic Jewishness and authentic Christianity share wholesome values completely opposed to the perverse doctrines of the “official” representatives of these traditions. This rejuvenating process is as old as history and is the engine of human progress. Folks lucky enough to participate in this divine struggle experience a blissful union between the solitary individual and all humankind—past, present and future.
Gruettner: Of all of the possible ancestors that these three heroines could have had, why did you choose Albert Einstein?
Hall: He was a world-class scientist, both practically and theoretically. Einstein had a playful sense of humor, a wandering eye, and never took himself too seriously. He also sought to integrate the universal laws of nature with the human imperative of universal love and democratic world government. His writings reflect the misgivings of many humanitarian Jews of his generation about the Zionist project in which Jews established and expanded their “homeland” only at the expense of a native Palestinian population with roots in Jesus’ time.
The Einstein genes served a valuable literary function as well. A novel of ideas with political aspirations needs to reach a large audience. What better voices to convey ideas clearly and humorously than those of brilliant children communicating with each other in a setting driven by the highest stakes imaginable—the imminent nuclear destruction of the planet.
Gruettner: Could you briefly explain to me and our readers why you chose to use The Wizard of Oz as one of the central themes of your book? Was this choice due (in part) to its level as a classic or because of the messages the original book and the screenplay featuring the late Judy Garland extolled?
Hall:Movies rarely are quite as good as the books on which their screenplays are based. The 1939 Wizard of Oz is an exception. It is the most widely viewed film ever made. Of course the characters in my novel cite many reasons for its popularity, such as Maxine Einstein’s remarks to her Christian cheerleader friends:
Gruettner: With the current U.S. administration on its way out, do you hope that your book will make any sort of a social or political impact on the next administration or the American people?
Hall: Ardently. I want to impact the people more than the politicians. Our so-called leaders have abysmally failed us for decades. They will serve our interests only if we organize and force them to confront the corporate power that is blocking humanity’s infinite potential for good. Yes, the Einstein sisters are confident they can save the world—and so am I.
Therefore I am working for the success of the Einstein Sisters with all my heart. Just because their message is ahead of the times and because the book skewers so many sacred cows—specifically the dangerous influence on our government from aggressive Zionism and nihilistic Christian Zionism, no literary agent was willing to represent it—despite its timeliness and literary merit.
The novel was blessed early by a loan from a retired Jewish college professor outraged by the treatment of the 1.5 million Palestinians imprisoned in Gaza by the current Israeli government just like the Polish Jews were imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto by the German government. Of course, the Palestinians have not yet been exterminated, but powerful members of the Israeli government and the large messianic Israeli settlers’ movement both advocate and practice murder and expulsion of the native Arab majority.
Gruettner: Near the end of the book, on page 611, one line really stood out to me and perfectly summarized how things should be: “Love Your Enemies and Pray For Those Who Persecute You” was the wording on Wolfowitz’s t-shirt. Are these words you live by, and, do you hope someday everyone will live by a motto like this (if they aren’t doing so already)?
Hall: As a born-again (if unconventional) Christian, I try to live by the Golden Rule. It is for others to judge how well I succeed. The principle, “do unto others,” is expressed in all major religions. Bus driver Angela Jordan and librarian Ruth Bowdler express its universal validity best:
“Do unto others” is not the same as “love and pray for your enemies” although I would also try to apply that principle to any potential personal “enemy.” Public enemies like the current rulers of the American Empire are beyond prayer. They must be held to account for their war crimes. That was the lesson from World War II and the Holocaust.
I don’t want to spoil the story for readers, but the T-shirt inscription on the real world’s universally reviled Paul Wolfowitz leads to one of many Christian surprises in the Einstein Sisters.
+ + +