Becker, Jillian (Ruth) 1932-
BECKER, Jillian (Ruth) 1932-
Born June 2, 1932, in Johannesburg, South Africa; daughter of Bernard (a surgeon and member of Parliament) and Florence Louie (a translator of poetry; maiden name, Gordon) Friedman; married Gerald Becker, May, 1956 (divorced, 1972); children: Claire Eve, Lucienne Pattison, Madeleine Ann. Education: University of Witwatersrand, B.A., 1955. Politics: "liberal—with a small 'l.'"
Home—London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
Publisher, 1985—. Director of Institute for the Study of Terrorism. Advisor to British Parliament on international terrorism, 1978; speaker, Jonathan Institute's Second International Conference on Terrorism, 1984; Has lectured in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and South Africa.
International PEN, Institute of Directors.
Newsweek Book of the Year Award, 1977, for Hitler's Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang; Pushcart Prize, 1983, for short story "The Stench."
The Keep (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1967, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1971.
The Union (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1971.
The Virgins (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1976.
Hitler's Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1977.
(Coauthor) Contemporary Terror: Studies in Sub-State Violence, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1981.
(Coauthor) British Perspectives on Terrorism, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1981.
The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Weidenfeld & Nicholson (London, England), 1984, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1985.
(Editor) Roberta Green, The Soviet Union and Terrorism, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1984.
The Soviet Connection: State Sponsorship of Terrorism, Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies (London, England), 1985.
Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
Known initially as the author of such novels as The Keep and The Union, Jillian Becker later gained recognition for her expertise on international terrorism. Becker's Hitler's Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang achieved bestseller status in the late 1970s. In Times Literary Supplement, Robert S. Wistrich described Hitler's Children as "an important and highly readable book, thoroughly researched and written with the pace and excitement of a crime thriller. It tells the story of West Germany's first urban guerrilla movement, the Baader-Meinhof gang, who in the early 1970s left behind them a trail of bank robberies, bombings, political kidnapping and highjackings that gave them international notoriety.… Becker has carefully investigated the background and motivations of the group leaders… [and] concludes that for all its ideological 'anti-fascism' the ethos of the group was not so different from that of the fascists they despised and hated." New York Times Book Review contributor Stephen Spender found Becker's analysis "strong on facts and useful source material and… a good crime story," but in contrast to Wistrich, Spender did not feel that Becker succeeded at exposing the motivations of these terrorists. As Spender noted, Hitler's Children "fails to do what the author… set out to do: to provide a clear analysis of the motives, actions and personal psychology of the leftists who became terrorists. One conspicuous reason for this failure is that… the author adopts a tone of heavy sarcasm. She is forever contrasting the terrorists' claims of being humanitarians, defending the cause of oppressed Palestinian Arabs or German workers, with the inhumanity of their actions." Spender added, however, "The book is valuable as reportage.… In the early part, the historical background of the students' movement [before certain members turned to terrorism] is interesting. On the whole, however, as an analysis of the motivations of the terrorists, it lacks objectivity and analytic detachment."
Jeane Kirkpatrick offered her response to Hitler's Children in New Republic by noting that the book is "a case study in the psycho-social bases of terrorism. Hitler's Children is not a major book but an interesting one which provides an insight into a major international scourge." The portraits Becker offers of individual members of the Baader-Meinhof gang were seen by Kirkpatrick as the most "useful" parts of the book. However, in Kirkpatrick's opinion, Becker "errs in her attempt to 'explain' the Baader-Meinhof groups by reference to specific aspects of German experience.… Preliminary evidence indicates the psycho-social characteristics of Japanese, Arab, Latin and German terrorists are so similar that they could not be accounted for specifically by national characteristics." Seen by a New Yorker critic as "the definitive account" of these West German terrorists, Hitler's Children has been published in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Great Britain, and Denmark.
In a very different vein, Becker drew on her experiences as a personal friend of poet Sylvia Plath to write an account of the poet's final days. Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath recounts the period when, after her husband Ted Hughes abruptly left her, Path moved in with Becker. Although Library Journal critic Rachael Collins commented that Plath's life and career have already been extensively analyzed, making it difficult for a writer to add anything new to the subject, the reviewer found that Becker does successfully "give voice to Plath's ghost" and reveals "a darker, more pathological Hughes." Other critics, however, found that the book offers a fresh perspective. Carlin Romano noted in Philadelphia Inquirer that Becker is surprisingly "quite tough on Plath," and concluded that Giving Up "conveys the authenticity of a long-delayed confession." London Independent writer Suzi Feay also appreciated Becker's "anti-mythic take" on the poet, adding that Becker "fits in more good sense and compassion on the subject of Sylvia Plath than books ten times as long."
Becker once told CA: "Knowledge of what is going on in the real world in our time seems to me essential for the writing of interesting fiction. I hope to continue to write both fact and fiction. I think that the freedom we enjoy now in the Western world is under threat and we must defend it. I abhor all forms of collectivist ideology. I am a disciple of Karl Popper and F. A. Hayek, I deplore discrimination against anybody on grounds that he belongs to a special group, whether that group is designated according to race, color, social class, etc."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Smith, Rowland, editor, Exile and Tradition, Longman, 1976.
Commentary, November, 1984, Daniel Pipes, review of The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization, p. 67.
Foreign Affairs, winter, 1984, John C. Campbell, review of The PLO, p. 427.
Independent (London, England), May 19, 2002, Suzy Feay, "Her Last Weekend—Time for Just One More Roll of the Dice?," p. 16.
Library Journal, June 1, 1984, review of The PLO, p. 1134; April 1, 2003, Rachael Collins, review of Giving Up: The Last Days of Sylvia Plath, p. 96.
Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 2003, Carlin Romano, "A Friend's Memoir of Days Leading up to Plath's Suicide."
New Republic, December 3, 1977.
New Yorker, June 6, 1977.
New York Times Book Review, June 19, 1977.
Publishers Weekly, April 20, 1984, review of The PLO, p. 71.
Time, August 8, 1977.
Times Literary Supplement, August 26, 1977; May 11, 1984.*