Mark Perlman spent his career in financial services. In Westport, he served on the Conservation Commission.
But his passion is World War I.
“It was the most cataclysmic event of the 20th century,” the Western Front, World War I Historical Association and Westport Weston Y’s Men member explains.
“Four of the 5 world empires dissolved at the end. There would be no World War II without World War I. And the treaties signed then, with all their man-made geography, have led to so much political dysfunction today.”
About 15 years ago, he began research for a historically based novel. He traveled to French museums and libraries, and Virginia Military Institute. He also researched the Harlem Hellfighters, the famous all-black unit.
His plot: A man expatriates himself to Jazz Age Paris. Moving from the late 19th century through the 1970s, Perlman wove together romance, murder, and of course World Wars I, II and the rise of fascism. Wanting to focus on someone who faced plenty of adversity, the author made his protagonist African American.
Working with an editor he found online, he finished the novel and sent it to literary agents and publishers.
One was interested. He asked Perlman: Are you Black?
Why does it matter? the author responded.
There was no answer — but it did. “I was dropped like a hot potato,” he says.
One publisher sent a contract. To prevent any misunderstanding, Perlman told her he is white.
She said, “I can’t publish this.”
“Current cancel culture has something to do with cultural appropriation,” Perlman says.
That’s not a issue in France. A publisher there bought the rights, translated it, and just published “Le Soldat Involontaire” (“The Reluctant Soldier”) in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada.
In French, of course.
“I’m one of the few authors who can’t read his own book,” Perlman notes. “I haven’t even gotten author copies.”
He’s not angry or upset that he has yet to find an American publisher. But, he says, “If it’s a good story, why does it matter who wrote what? If you enjoy a book, and don’t know the author’s background, who cares?”
Perlman points to another author who met resistance at the beginning.
“Sixty years ago, Barbara Tuchman wrote ”The Guns of August,'” Perlman says of the spell-binding World War I history.
“She had no military experience. There was a bit of acrimony. But it was a great book, and it won a Pulitzer Prize. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK had his commanders read it, to prevent lighting a spark like with World War I.”
Perlman is not comparing “Le Soldat Involontaire” to “The Guns of August.”
Still, he says: “I found a way to get it published. And that’s what counts.”
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