The Fiftieth Gate: An Australian case study in twentieth-century
On Sunday 6 April 1997, historian Mark Baker's first non-academic book was launched at Melbourne's iconic migrant portal, Station Pier. The guest list of over 500 invitees included representatives of many print media organisations, most of whom interviewed the author. His photograph was reproduced a week later in the 'Agenda' section of The Age newspaper. In this portrait, Baker leans on the railings beside the massive structure of Station Pier. Framed by sea and sky, he is caught glancing pensively over his shoulder past the camera and into the middle distance. He is alone. The day is bleak. Here, the reader is invited to surmise, is a man with much on his mind. In a flash of inspiration the sub-editor has prefaced the accompanying caption, 'Back to the future', linking the story with the mass media of film and television.
Baker and his publisher Harper Collins had worked strenuously towards the successful publication of his book, and their tactics were rewarded. The Fiftieth Gate made its debut as top nonfiction seller on the bestseller lists of both Melbourne's The Age and the Australian Review of Books during the following weeks. The book subsequently achieved several shortlistings and minor prizes and won The NSW Premier's Literary Award in 1997.
From the perspective of their intellectual creators, books are an art form with an aesthetic basis for their cultural value. Immediately upon the manuscript's transfer to a publisher, however, it becomes, via the auspices of the mass manufacturing process, a commodity to which an economic value is ascribed. The desire for publication, albeit concurrent with the writer's loss of personal control and complicity in the process of commercialization, appears to be the price writers willingly pay to engage with a reading public.
Mark Baker is one of a self-selecting group of writers, labelled in
media and critical commentary as 'second-generation' Holocaust survivors.
Such writers focus their skills upon stories of the Holocaust or its aftermath
but consider themselves to be real writers, not merely family historians
or witnesses to their parents' plight. The Holocaust is a significant
driver of the second generation: testimony and memorialisation require
publication, and it is through writing that members
of the second generation attempt to make sense of the legacy of 'an event
not personally experienced' (Berger 1997, p. 1). By
publishing The Fiftieth Gate, Baker is following the tradition
of second-generation writers, Australian and international, who strive
to make sense of the meaning of
the Holocaust in their own lives while fulfilling the eyewitness dictum
to 'bear witness' (Levi 1987, 1989;
The historian Inga Clendinnen argued that 'Normally we expect the magic
of art to intensify, transfigure and elevate actuality.
Touch the Holocaust and the flow is reversed', rendering art 'vacuous
and drained of authority' (1998, p. 185). Keeping this
in mind, it is difficult to conceptualise a popular market that would
justify commercial publication of Baker's memoir. The current structure
of the Australian publishing industry, influenced by the conglomerate
requirement for consistent and reliable profits, operates on the premise
that larger numbers of fewer titles can be sold to the consumer market
if the marketing package is appropriate. This model assumes a popular
market for books that is largely homogenous. Closer scrutiny, however,
reveals that the mass market is not a homogenous unit
requiring an 'ideal' bestselling book able to cater to a single popular
taste. It is, as described by John Frow (1995), a heterogeneity
constructed of myriad niches, whose consumption of cultural production
reflects social identity rather than class.
My paper explores the mechanisms by which the Australian publishing subsidiary
of an international conglomerate, with its profit imperatives and consequent
adoption of risk-averse publishing strategies, created a bestselling book
from the unlikely source of a second-generation literary memoir.
Some months prior to the publication of the memoir by the then unknown
academic, Baker, strategies for marketing his book as a potential bestseller
were devised by the publishing company. Harper Collins used a proactive
approach to influence the book's path through the marketing and sales
processes from publisher through bookshop to reader. Baker, the child
of Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, it would seem, had succeeded against
the odds. Harper Collins printed and released in excess of 20 000 copies
of The Fiftieth Gate into the Australian book trade on publication.
Signposts for bestsellers
In his study of British and American popular fiction of the 1970s, John
Sutherland describes books with the potential to become bestsellers as
those driven by publicity, by point-of-sale displays, by author tours
and, frequently, by links to the release of movies (Sutherland 1981).
Such support, he writes, turns books into an economically viable 'product'
for the originating publisher. Additionally, the books are 'ideological',
both expressing and feeding certain needs in the reading public by consolidating
prejudice, providing comfort and 'therapy' whilst offering 'vicarious
rewards and stimulus' (p. 34). Sutherland's bestselling writer demonstrates
scholarly skill and research capabilities (pp. 137ff)
with the aim of making the reader feel 'educated' by the experience of
reading the novel (note 1). Bestselling writers also
have the ability to revive history, 'to [make] a stale cliché fresh
again' (p. 46). The chance of any particular title or work of a particular
genre becoming a bestseller, however, Sutherland considered an unpredictable
event, with even works of literature making the bestseller lists on occasion
When Sutherland wrote about the construction of the American bestselling
novel, his definition of a bestseller was the achievement of sales in
excess of one hundred thousand copies in hard cover or one million in
paperback (1981, p. 11). He focused on writers who deliberately targeted
an 'ideal' audience for bestsellers that, as discussed above, is a somewhat
problematic, if convenient, construct of the mass-market publishers. Although
Sutherland's research is specific to novels and to international markets,
his categorisation of books and their marketing is nevertheless useful
when considering the ways in which the second-generation Holocaust writer
Mark Baker and his publisher worked to influence sales of The Fiftieth
In contrast with the American bestsellers of the 1970s,
Australia's best selling local title in 2003, Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow,
sold 78 037 copies (Nielsen BookScan Australia 2004).
In an industry dominated by the sales success of imported titles and local
gift books, locally nurtured literary writers are deemed
successful if they sell 3000 copies on release, with as few as 1000 copies
being typical for a first novel (Wilding 2000, p. 153).
An Australian literary work achieving local release sales of more than
twenty thousand copies is almost unheard of, which makes the success of
Mark Baker's Fiftieth Gate even more extraordinary.
Strategies for stimulating media interest in The Fiftieth Gate
Baker was represented by Hickson & Associates, at that time one of
Australia's leading literary agents, who would be expected to secure a
substantial advance for their client. His manuscript was sold to Harper
Collins on the basis of an initial printing of 7500 copies (a significant
run for a literary memoir), which is possibly as much a comment on the
need to recoup the advance payment as it is on the company's initial confidence
in this first-time author's ability to generate significant sales. To
the delight of its backers, the book soon impressed the Harper Collins
editorial and marketing teams. It received a positive response from the
company's sales representatives who enthusiastically passed the word to
their clients, the booksellers. Such was the industry's response to early
page proofs, the company began to believe that it had a potential bestseller
on its hands, as evidenced by its issue of a press release prior to publication.
The release not only described the company's growing confidence in Baker's
book; in a radical step for Australian publishing, it also discussed the
print run, publicly revealing that
Richard Parslow, Harper Collins' Sales and Marketing Director, said:
In this press release the publisher provided facts that might otherwise
be considered confidential, designed to stimulate interest in the book's
publication as an unusual event, even as a new event-at least to industry
insiders. The greatly increased first printing, from
7500 to 18 000 copies, of a literary title is tendered by its publisher
as evidence (note 2).
There are several reasons for the success of this book by an unknown
(in trade publishing terms) writer. Having the support and negotiating
strength of an experienced agent to sell the work no doubt benefited the
writer financially, as well as providing the publishing company with the
incentive of a significant advance royalty to recoup. This helped generate
a climate of excitement within Harper Collins that was successfully conveyed
to the bookselling community. Once a commitment to a large print run seemed
possible, marketing strategies were used to consolidate maximum sales
into bookshops on publication, and maximum column inches and radio exposure
for the book and its author. A press release such as the one issued by
Harper Collins, 'talking up' the book as a work of significance, a vehicle
for quality writing and important content ('this important book', 'the
quality and content...was evident'), and giving details of the projected
print run, is unusual in an industry that has been notoriously guarded
about divulging actual figures and where the definition of a 'bestseller'
depends not on a particular numeric target but on context and to whom
one is talking. Interviews with Baker and articles about and reviews of
The Fiftieth Gate appeared in over twenty-five publications as
diverse as the Salvation Army War Cry, the Jewish News and
The Bulletin, as well as, of course, the mainstream review vehicles,
The Age, The Australian, the Australian Book Review,
The Australian Review of Books, the Courier Mail, The
West Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Prior to the book's publication, endorsement was solicited from Phillip
Adams of ABC Radio National and The Australian newspaper. Much
was made in the publisher's publicity campaign of Adams' praise for the
book, which read:
His quotation heads the press release as well as appearing on the book
as a back-cover blurb. Linking the book's content to classical themes,
Adams suggests a revelatory aspect to the work, 'to imagine, to illuminate,
to astonish'. The blurb by a noted Australian broadcaster and public intellectual
praises the book's ability to inform the reader while connecting the book
to the controversy of the Demidenko scandal that had
so consumed not only the literary media but also the opinion and editorial
pages of the broadsheet presses during 1995 (note 3).
The link with Demidenko is an obvious one for the Harper Collins publicist
to promote. The controversy about that author's identity and the nature
of her book (fact or fiction?), as well as later accusations of plagiarism
that cost Helen Darville (Demidenko) literary credibility, generated a
public engagement with Holocaust history that continued for months following
the book's winning of the prestigious Miles Franklin
Award and the Gold Medal of the Association for the Study of Australian
Literature in 1995 (note 4).
The audience before whom the debate was enacted in the broadsheet press
and on ABC radio and television, considered as consumers of high culture
within the traditional class-based dichotomy between high and low culture,
is perhaps more aptly defined by John Frow's (1995) model, which perceives
high culture not as the dominant culture tied to the providers of capital
but as a 'pocket within commodity culture' (1995, p. 86). Frow's paradigm,
based on social identity, provides a more useful representation of the
operations of the Australian publishing industry. Furthermore, Frow suggests
that the coherent maintenance of such social identities only exists within
'the constant process of their reformation' (1995, p. 12), allowing the
possibility for any individual to have multiple identities across a number
of social groupings, thereby explaining not only the different valuing
of a cultural artifact (a book) within diverse social groupings but the
transfer of such value from one group to another. Frow's paradigm explains
the existence of significant niche markets fuelled by common interest
groups, allowing that a book published with a particular readership in
mind (those interested in Holocaust memorialisation, for instance) may
be read by others for different reasons (an interest in memoir, perhaps.)
The selection of Adams's reference to the ability of Baker's book to
'undo the damage of Demidenko' for particular focus links the work inextricably
with the moral high ground of Holocaust remembrance. Adams endows the
book with the power to undo the damage, described during the controversy
by Robert Manne (1996) as cultural and moral revisionism, exemplified
by the poet Tom Shapcott's fears of a 'new generation
which is distant from the Holocaust, who see it as something they want
to question, or to challenge or to set aside' (Manne 1996,
p. 133). One might speculate also about the nature of the healing
process and its importance to the bruised egos of a media duped by the
performance of a bogus Ukrainian writer, the same media to whom the press
release setting up The Fiftieth Gate as a popular news item was
Included with the press release were an explanatory statement, 'Writing
The Fiftieth Gate' by the author, and a two-page primer, 'An Interview
with Mark Baker'. These documents suggest an attempt by the publisher
to assist the media to recognise that the book's difficult content and
self-conscious literary style were in fact accessible to a general audience
and worth discussion and review. The Demidenko references remind the Jewish
community where their loyalties should lie and, by suggesting a cause
célèbre in Holocaust remembrance, seek to engender some
sympathetic response from critics for whom the Demidenko imbroglio still
rankled. The tactic worked, with reviews almost universally sympathetic
to the author. Many reviewers invoked Demidenko as the spectre of Holocaust
denial to which The Fiftieth Gate provided an antidote.
In the first attachment to the press release the author provides information
designed to prime the media to enable a swift assimilation of the book.
This document, entitled 'Writing The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Baker',
seeks to amplify some of the more obscure references, such as the meaning
of the book's title, as well as Baker's understanding of his writing process
and the reactions of his parents to his research and to the publication.
Having dealt with what he considers to be the controversial and difficult
aspects of his story (his 'bullying' of his parents, his 'stealing' of
their memories), Baker contextualises his book globally and locally, focusing
on the genocide in Rwanda, the plight of refugees, and the family - the
'new narrative' that is built with the telling of family stories to his
children. There is much here with which the journalist can conjure a profile
and with which readers can identify. From the Holocaust and intergenerational
trauma, Baker has constructed a framework for hope.
The second attachment to the press release, 'An interview with Mark Baker',
contains further information about the book and its author presented in
a question and answer format. The author responds to questions by an anonymous
interviewer, intended as a primer, perhaps, for the unimaginative or time-stressed
reviewer or feature writer. Baker's researched family history explores
issues of memory and family relationships. Memory is altered, revised,
Baker suggests, through interrogation.
Baker's original intention had been to write using historical research
intermingled with his parents' testimonial memories - a combination of
two 'distinct' voices. 'This was the deal,' he confirms.
'I would give them my knowledge of history; they would give me their memory'
(1997, p. xi). Yet the writing is not a dry historical
account tempered by eyewitness testimony. A third voice intrudes: his
own. The work became a personal story of a son's struggle to discover
his role within his survivor family. Where his detailed research uncovers
unsatisfactory gaps in the record, he includes a first person, fictionalised
account that dramatises his paternal grandmother's last moments in the
gas chamber. His researched work, it seems, has been subverted during
the writing to accommodate creative fiction and poetry.
The author and publisher ensure through the provision of ancillary documents
attached to their press release that journalists are assisted to understand
key issues in the book - especially those issues that relate to the story
and the author's motives - that might prove interesting to a reading audience.
A number of the issues raised in these documents correspond to those identified
in Sutherland's (1981) description of the bestseller and its intended
influence on the reader. Baker's book, for instance, is well researched
and intended to educate; the author is an historian. Despite his parents'
trauma, in Baker's telling, the reader experiences a measure of comfort.
The story is one of the triumph of good over evil, of regeneration over
genocide. Issues pertinent to a wider public than Holocaust survivor families
are encompassed. The author draws from his personal pain an empathy with
others who suffer - with the implication that one must assist all survivors
of genocide, through the provision of aid perhaps (Baker had established
Keshet, a Jewish humanitarian relief organisation, in 1995 in response
to the crisis in Rwanda), and offer succour to refugees. Here the reader
may gratefully move from the intolerable dimensions of the Holocaust to
the manageable and humane dimensions of aid, caring and kindness. The
book is understood to provide comfort: it is a corrective to the horror
of the Holocaust. A type of closure is implied by the mock interview's
final question: 'What do you plan to do next?' (Harper Collins 1997, p.
5). Baker has commenced a novel. He is able to return to 'normal' life.
The media response to Harper Collins's tactics
The topics synthesised through the press release and its attachments
found their way into review columns and profile articles providing, as
was intended, points of identification for the reader. Baker, as presented
to the media, is a man not afraid to disclose both good and bad about
himself and his family. Family secrets are revealed: imperfections, conflicts
and difficult relationships abound in his memoir.
While being aware of difficulties inherent in his subject matter, Baker
and those associated with the publication of The Fiftieth Gate
seek an audience broader than that usually associated with either scholarly
memoir or Holocaust memorial. Sydney Morning Herald reviewer, Richard
Guilliatt, writes of Baker's success:
Baker, the reader is told, has succeeded in creating a book with wide
appeal and in particular to Australia's numerically largest generation,
the baby-boomers. Rather than the specificity of the Holocaust, the reader
is reminded about the vagaries of illness that can cut short a life at
any time, but which Baker's father has survived.
In her review of The Fiftieth Gate for the Australian Book
Review, Felicity Bloch (1997) makes an initial
appeal to the Jewish readership of the magazine. The number of Holocaust
survivors living in Australia, 'proportionately, the largest number of
Holocaust survivors outside Israel, most of them living in Melbourne',
she finds significant. She comments on the ageing survivor communities
and the importance of recording their stories, emphasising the significance
of the work of the second generation. Bloch mentions specifically writers
Lily Brett, Arnold Zable and Ramona Koval in this context. For potential
readers, Bloch confirms that the Holocaust is again a 'fashionable' topic,
stressing, no doubt to the delight of the publisher, that although the
book's content is sophisticated and complex, it is pitched towards a more
general audience than is perhaps apparent:
With such blandishments, Bloch conveniently summarises the essential
features of The Fiftieth Gate. The reader is encouraged to see
the book neither as an addition to the scholarly material on the Holocaust
nor as further testimony, but as a work that would enlighten and educate
whilst entertaining. Through Bloch's review, the book is associated with
'popular' culture. Her readers would be well acquainted with Jewish humour
through film and television (Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Ruby Wax), and
the 'scholarly endnotes' are presented as a bonus for the amateur genealogist.
The Fiftieth Gate's appeal to readers
The appeal of Baker's Fiftieth Gate to the reading audiences defined
by Frow (1995) can be mapped using various characteristics associated
by Sutherland (1981) with bestsellers. Those of particular relevance to
this case study are the demonstration of authorial scholarship, the book's
provision of therapy and comfort for the reader, the newsworthy nature
of the writing, and ideas associated with refreshing the 'stale cliché'.
Baker's book is not merely accurate historical reportage; it is a narrative
story of literary yet popular merit. Baker, Harper Collins wishes the
audience to know, is a (real) writer, not simply a family chronicler.
His second book, a novel, is already underway. The attributes of bestselling
books conveyed via the press release were largely accepted by the journalists,
who explored them in review and during interviews with Baker.
Numerous reviewers mention Baker's meticulous scholarship and his career
as an academic and historian. 'Their son grew up to earn an Oxford PhD
and become a Jewish scholar' (Guilliatt 1997). 'A Melbourne academic historian,
Baker adroitly reconstructs [his parents'] story from
conversations and interviews supported by a daring use of documentary
investigation' (Gerster 1997). 'Baker
illuminates his parents' testimonies with primary sources thoughtfully
left to us by the perpetrators' (Coleman 1997). Through
scholarship Baker establishes credibility with his readers.
Readers of nonfiction and memoir require well-researched, factual information,
as was confirmed by the removal from sale of Norma
Khouri's Forbidden Love when it was discovered that Khouri was
deceiving the public about her identity (Knox & Overington 2004).
Though they may have benefited from the media hype surrounding the controversy
in the short term through sales to the curious, publisher Random House
was acutely conscious of the longer-term benefits of credibility in their
market. Sutherland (1981) sees credibility as an important facet of the
bestselling author's work practice, feeding the desire of many readers
to feel they are being educated through their reading.
The Fiftieth Gate is also promoted as a story of intergenerational
tensions. Highlighted in the press materials is the family's conflict
during the writing of the book. The fact that Baker does not resile from
the implications of his treatment of his parents - implicit in his relentless
pursuit of their history is his selfishness in not sparing their feelings
- helps engage the reader who can identify with a son's insistence that
his parents' trauma is part of his story. The therapeutic nature
of Baker's project provides a point of identity with a market acculturated
to therapy through media representations. His parents' obvious suffering
(depression, denial and phobias) has impinged upon Baker's own childhood.
In an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald he says:
The reader sees Baker, the child, struggling to find his own truth and
has empathy with his plight.
The publisher also encourages prospective readers to perceive a 'happy
ending' for this book. The back cover copy proudly proclaims The Fiftieth
Gate to be 'A love story and a detective story...a journey from despair
and death towards hope and life; the story of a son who enters his parents'
memories and, inside the darkness, finds light'. The emphasis here is
upon the comfort of the reader, through presentation
of what Holocaust scholar Laurence Langer has termed a 'manageable version
of the Holocaust' (1995, p. 9) rather than on the nightmares,
or the unresolved nature of Baker's parents' grief, for instance.
Harper Collins endeavoured to make their new book 'newsworthy' in the
literary press and within the industry through the release of hitherto
confidential information in their press release. Like later worldwide
campaigns surrounding the bookshop release of the Harry Potter stories,
the publicity campaign created a frisson around the size of Baker's print
run which was unusual for a first-time literary author in the Australian
market. Again, their plan succeeded. The Australian Book Review
highlights the achievement of 'this first-time author's dream run, with
over 20 000 copies...taken up pre-publication, and enthusiastic reviews
followed by top ratings in The Age best-seller list' (Bloch 1997).
The Sydney Morning Herald is similarly impressed, running as a
lead to their review:
Within his review Guilliatt chronicles details of the print run (22 000),
the book's status as a bestseller (a debut at the top of The Age's
list) and the positive response from major booksellers (Angus & Robertson
selected the book among their top five orders for the month.)
Nor was the reference to Demidenko overlooked. Time Magazine used
it in an effort to draw lines of equivalence between the stories, suggesting
two very different imaginings of the Holocaust and casting the authors
as binary opposites. A disingenuous Demidenko resorts
to a 'fake Ukrainian heritage - and name'. Baker is authentic: 'My only
credential is that I'm a son of these survivors' (Fitzgerald 1997).
Peter Richardson in his Sunday Age review describes the work as
'an unanswerable coda to the intellectual dishonesty
and moral shallowness that typified the Demidenko affair... Here is the
real news' (Richardson 1997). Potential readers are
reassured that the damage done by the unsettling media debate that surrounded
publication of Demidenko's The Hand that Signed the Paper can be
healed by Baker's appropriate and genuine voice from the second generation.
This was a message with substantial appeal to the large Australian survivor
Baker's writing is made newsworthy by association with big print runs
and the Demidenko controversy but, importantly, the book itself has the
ability to provide a different kind of Holocaust memorialisation. Sutherland
(1981) describes this as making a 'stale cliché fresh again' (p.
46). Following the critical debate over Demidenko's
book, Robert Manne had feared a growing 'expression of jadedness with
the Holocaust' (Bloch 1996). When David Bernstein
was asked to review The Fiftieth Gate for the Australian Jewish
News he was apprehensive about reading 'yet another worthy, undoubtedly
well-written but ultimately - dare I say it - boring addition to Melbourne's
lengthening Holocaust memorial bookshelf' (Bernstein 1997).
The similarly jaded reader may have been inclined to think that not only
is the Holocaust an unpalatable topic for a literary subject but, like
Bernstein, one which had been repeated many times. Alan Jacobs, former
director of the Sydney Jewish Museum responded, 'Oh God, another Holocaust
memoir', when requested to review the book (Guilliatt 1997). Having read
the book, however, these reviewers and others encourage readers to suspend
judgment. This book, they enthuse, is different. It has the power to make
history new. Richard Guilliatt (1997) quotes Dr Suzanne Rutland, senior
lecturer in Jewish studies at the University of Sydney: 'I have read a
lot of Holocaust memoirs... This book is unique in the way it integrates
the present with the past. It really does add a new dimension'. Herald
Sun reviewer, Zelda Cawthorne, is equally enthusiastic:
'Innumerable words have been written about the Holocaust but The Fiftieth
Gate provides a unique perspective' (1997). In
explaining the popularity of the book, reviewers directly and indirectly
reference the publisher's prepared material. The publishing success of
the book becomes part of the review or feature article generating more
interest in the book and its author.
Marketing pragmatics and a touch of serendipity
Mark Baker's The Fiftieth Gate was written at a fortuitous time
for its author. He was not the first of the second generation to write
a family memoir about the Holocaust experience. Arnold Zable had already
published his prizewinning Jewels and Ashes in 1991. Lily Brett
had published her Holocaust poetry during the 1980s followed by her first
novel, Just Like That, with Pan Macmillan in 1994. She would release
her collection of essays, In Full View, the same year that Baker's
Fiftieth Gate was published by Harper Collins. Given that there
are simply not enough 'bestselling' local titles to be sourced by Australian
commissioning editors and publishers to fulfill local budgets, editors
must focus on the next best thing: significant niche markets, dictated
by the discrete reading habits of communities of interest. Historical
confluences had delivered a receptive audience of such communities of
interest to which Baker's book could be marketed.
Although Baker wrote as others of the second generation had done, from
a need to make sense of his own story, the book contains a number of features
that the publisher could identify as potentially audience broadening.
In Australia in the 1990s, younger people of many ethnicities and cultures
were becoming increasingly interested in discovering their cultural roots,
encouraged by Australia's policy of multiculturalism and the increasingly
exotic mix of the migrants, their food and their customs that had become
a visible part of the Australian urban landscape. The interest provided
an audience able to identify with a wider search for meaning encompassing
Baker's exploration of his life as a second-generation survivor growing
up in a leafy suburban Melbourne.
The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, established in
1993 by Steven Spielberg with the aim of videotaping
Holocaust survivors' testimony worldwide, has been actively recording
testimony in Australia since 1996 (Jerums 1999). The
sense of urgency for recording the past created by the ageing of the survivor
community has also inspired the Melbourne Makor Jewish community library's
'Write your story' project, in which members are encouraged to record
their memories. The Makor project has resulted in the publication of 40
volumes and two anthologies since its inception in 1998. These projects
are indicative of the mood towards conservation of memory that assisted
in the reception of Baker's book, first by the publisher and then by the
The Fiftieth Gate is a book reflective of its time. Baker desires
to testify, motivated to bring his story to a wider audience not only
by Elie Wiesel's 'imperative' of testimony (Wiesel 1995, p. 320) but by
his need to make sense of the effects of his family's experience upon
him and his children. His association with literary agent Hickson &
Associates suggests a savvy individual, understanding that good connections
will assist him to negotiate the industry's requirements of an author.
By combining a personal voice with his research technique and his parents'
testimony, he repositions the work within the burgeoning search by Australian
(and other) multicultural societies for cultural/ethnic identification.
His publisher, having received positive feedback prior to printing that
suggested this book could outsell their projections, undertook an extensive
publicity campaign to fulfill the vision. This support is not usually
provided to first-time writers.
Baker was lucky, but his success was based on more than luck. His book, its content, the writing style, the author himself, appealed first to an experienced agent and then to the editorial staff at Harper Collins. Later, during production, his manuscript generated that indefinable buzz that permeates publishing companies once they believe that a title conceived for a healthy niche market has the potential to become a 'breakout' book, ripe for the marketing processes that will magnify its appeal to encompass the 'pocket within commodity culture' (Frow 1995, p. 86) that is the popular audience.
2) A number of figures for the initial print run have
subsequently been published. Felicity Bloch (1997) writes that it was
in excess of 20 000 copies, while Richard Guilliatt (1997) states it was
22 000. These discrepancies suggest that the print run was further increased
following the media release. Return
3) A chronology of the media coverage of the ensuing
public debate is provided in The Demidenko File
(Jost et al. 1996). As well, the
relative merits of Demidenko/Darville's book have been argued by Robert
Manne (1996) and Andrew Riemer (1996)
and other contributions were published in the Australian Humanities
Review and are available online at http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive/demidenko/home.html.
Return to text
4) The Hand that Signed the Paper was published in 1994 as the 1993 Vogel prizewinner. Reviews following publication were substantially positive and major controversy did not ensue until June 1995 when the book won Australia's most prestigious literary prize, The Miles Franklin Award. Return to text
Baker, Mark Raphael 1997, The Fiftieth Gate: A Journey through Memory, Harper Collins Publishers, Pymble. Return to text
Berger, Alan 1997, Children of Job: American Second-generation Witnesses to the Holocaust, State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. Return to text
Bernstein, David 1997, 'A Kaddish to history', Australian Jewish News, 28 March, p. 16. Return to text
Bloch, Felicity 1997, 'A Collage of Memory', Australian Book Review, June, p. 21. Return to text
Block, Felicity 1996, 'Writing the Holocaust', Jewish News, Melbourne, Arts, 1 November, p. 8. Return to text
Cawthorne, Zelda 1997, 'Light on a dark past', Herald Sun, 26 April, p. 18. Return to text
Clendinnen, Inga 1998, Reading the Holocaust, Text Publishing Company, Melbourne. Return to text
Coleman, Suzy 1997, 'Through Hell's gate', The Australian Review of Books, 14 May, p. 10. Return to text
Fitzgerald, Michael 1997, 'Lessons of History', Time, 21 April, p. 79. Return to text
Frow, John 1995, Cultural Studies and Cultural Value, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Return to text
Gerster, Robin 1997, 'The Fiftieth Gate by Mark Baker', Bulletin, 13 May, p. 75. Return to text
Guilliatt, Richard 1997, 'Through the looking gate', The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 April, p. 11. Return to text
Harper Collins 1997, Print Run Doubles Prior to Publication, media release, Harper Collins Publishers, Pymble, March. Return to text
Jerums, Georgina 1999, 'Records of survival', Melbourne Weekly, 14-20 June, p. 8. Return to text
Jost, John, Gianna Totaro & Christine Tyshing (eds) 1996, The Demidenko File, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood. Return to text
Knox, Malcolm & Caroline Overington 2004, 'Khouri-the troubled life of a fake', The Age, Insight, 31 July, p. 3. Return to text
Langer, Laurence 1995, Admitting the Holocaust, Oxford University Press, New York. Return to text
Levi, Primo 1989 (1986), The Drowned and the Saved, Abacus, London. Return to text
Levi, Primo 1987 (1958; 1963), If this is a Man and The Truce, Abacus, London. Return to text
Manne, Robert 1996, The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust, Text Publishing Company, Melbourne. Return to text
Nielsen BookScan Australia 2004, at <http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/01/28/1075088091389.html>, viewed 29 February 2004. Return to text
Richardson, Owen 1997, 'A past imperfect found by memory', The Sunday Age, 6 April. Return to text
Riemer, Andrew 1996, The Demidenko Debate, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards. Return to text
Sutherland, John 1981, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London. Return to text
Wiesel, Elie 1995, All Rivers Run to the Sea: Memoirs, Alfred Knopf, New York. Return to text
Wilding, Michael 2000, 'Michael Wilding on Australian publishing in a global environment', Antipodes, December, pp. 152-4. Return to text
Robin Freeman teaches Professional Writing in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University, Melbourne. Prior to taking up this appointment in 2003, her fifteen years professional experience in the Australian publishing industry included publishing and editing across trade, education and academic titles, with multinational as well as independent publishers. Between 2000-2003, she was one of a number of researchers, writers and editors involved in the C-2-C Project <www.c-2-cproject.com>, a research project investigating changes to the Australian book industry resulting from the introduction of new technologies. Her research interests include the Australian publishing industry, and the writings of Australian second-generation Holocaust survivors.
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