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Born in Boston and raised there and in California, Joseph Matthews was for a number of years a criminal defense lawyer in San Francisco, engaging in the criminal/political cases of anti–Vietnam War activists and Mission District barrio residents, defending prisoners during the California prison rebellions of the 1970s, serving as a public defender, and teaching at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley. He spent considerable time in Greece in the 1970s and 1980s, where his novel Shades of Resistance (1996) is set during the period of the military junta there. His other previous books are the short story collection The Lawyer Who Blew Up His Desk (1998) and the political analysis Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War (2005, with Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, and Michael Watts).

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Everyone Has Their Reasons
Author: Joseph Matthews
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-62963-094-6
Published: 10/01/2015
Format: Hardcover
Size: 9x6
Page count: 526
Subjects: Fiction/History-WW2

On November 7, 1938, a small, slight seventeen-year-old Polish-German Jew named Herschel Grynszpan entered the German embassy in Paris and shot dead a consular official. Three days later, in supposed response, Jews across Germany were beaten, imprisoned, and killed, their homes, shops, and synagogues smashed and burned—Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

Based on the historical record and told through his “letters” from German prisons, the novel begins in 1936, when fifteen-year-old Herschel flees Germany. Penniless and alone, he makes it to Paris where he lives hand-to-mouth, his shadow existence mixing him with the starving and the wealthy, with hustlers, radicals, and seamy sides of Paris nightlife.

In 1938, the French state rejects refugee status for Herschel and orders him out of the country. With nowhere to go, and now sought by the police, he slips underground in immigrant east Paris.

Soon after, the Nazis round up all Polish Jews in Germany—including Herschel’s family—and dump them on the Poland border. Herschel’s response is to shoot the German official, then wait calmly for the French police.

June 1940, Herschel is still in prison awaiting trial when the Nazi army nears Paris. He is evacuated south to another jail but escapes into the countryside amid the chaos of millions of French fleeing the invasion. After an incredible month alone on the road, Herschel seeks protection at a prison in the far south of France. Two weeks later the French state hands him to the Gestapo.

The Nazis plan a big show trial, inviting the world press to Berlin for the spectacle, to demonstrate through Herschel that Jews had provoked the war. Except that Herschel throws a last-minute wrench in the plans, bringing the Nazi propaganda machine to a grinding halt. Hitler himself postpones the trial and orders that no decision be made about Herschel’s fate until the Führer personally gives an order—one way or another.


"A tragic, gripping Orwellian tale of an orphan turned assassin in pre-World War II Paris. Based on the true story of the Jewish teen Hitler blamed for Kristallnacht, it's a wild ride through the underside of Europe as the storm clouds of the Holocaust gather.  Not to be missed!"
—Terry Bisson, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of Fire on the Mountain

“Neither wholly about Greece nor entirely about despotism, it draws very finely on the intense, localized and felt reality of both.  . . . It succeeds splendidly in illuminating the discovery that resistance is not so much a choice as a necessity.”
— Christopher Hitchens about Shades of Resistance

“Beautiful and richly evocative, but underneath the surface is an inventive and skilled use of metaphor and careful control of meaning.  . . . The reassembling of the [protagonist’s] perceptions is a rich and complicated metaphor for all human struggle to connect, and to know the truth about the self.”
— Ian Macmillan about Shades of Resistance

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What Others are Saying

everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
by Jeff Grim
Collected Miscellany
May 2nd, 2016

"...The book also perfectly captures the tension (both class and nationality) in Paris in the 1930’s. Not only are the working class (led by Communists) in conflict with others, but there is also strife between native French and the migrants fleeing Germany and other areas in Eastern Europe. Matthews writes about these conflicts in Grynszpan’s interactions with other characters.

The book is an excellent look at the fictional musings of one of history’s little-known assassins whose actions created such chaos."

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everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
by Ron Jacobs
January 22nd, 2016

Everyone Has Their Reasons is a novel drawn from the modern human condition. Authoritarian politicians and fearful citizens combine to create a world where those denoted as scapegoats are made to pay for humanity’s trespasses. It is also a tale of survival and human dignity. Joseph Matthews has created a powerful narrative of a tragically human scenario. It is at turns warm, comedic, compelling, and provocative. Unfortunately, it is also all too contemporary in the concerns it addresses.

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everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
by Emma Cazabonne
Words and Peace
December 2015

VERDICT: Powerful  and unique rendition on life in Europe in the years 1935-1945 through vivid letters from Herschel Grynszpan to his lawyer, as he awaits his trial for killing a Nazi diplomat in Paris. A long book that will reward readers interested in this page of European history as well as inventive writing.

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everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
by Lorraine Norwood
Historical Novel Society
December 2015

Joseph Matthews has created a fictional picture of the little-known Herschel Grynszpan, a “teenage assassin” whose killing of a consular official in the German embassy in Paris in 1938 provided the pretext for an outbreak of violence against Jews—Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Thousands of Jewish properties and synagogues were destroyed, while Jews throughout Germany were beaten, imprisoned, or killed.

The novel is epistolary in character, told through Grynszpan’s “letters” to his attorney from 1940 to 1945. Grynszpan writes of his early life in Germany as storm clouds of the Holocaust gather, his flight to Paris when he was 15, and his subsequent shadow existence in the seamy Paris nightlife. After he is handed to the Gestapo, he is moved to several prisons then to concentration camps.

Matthews beautifully captures the tone of a schoolboy’s German tinged with Yiddish. The sentence structure and phrasing seem true to the voice. Likewise, his portraits of pre-World War II Germany and Paris are filled with extensive and accurate detail.

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everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
By Diane C. Donovan
Donvans Literary Service
October 2015

Everyone Has Their Reasons stands out in the world of novels partially because it's based on the life of one Herschel Grynszpan, the 'teen assassin' whose actions helped create the 'Night of Broken Glass' when Jews in Germany were targeted as a group by Nazis.

The author wondered why this boy and his actions have largely been ignored by history, so he researched the topic for fifteen years, then wrapped his findings in a novel format which presumably will bring it to a far greater audience than a history or biography format would have achieved.

The story begins in 1935, when teen Herschel escapes Germany, and follows events leading into his trial, when Nazis used him to try to show that their campaign against the Jews stemmed from justifiable provocations. In fact his actions began when the Nazis rounded up his parents and forcibly sent them back to Poland, and his choice of shooting an official to bring world attention to their campaign only serves to backfire and result in a massive wave of outraged retaliation.

The author holds a background as a criminal defense lawyer, which helps him create a vivid, realistic saga that takes the legal process and embeds it with a realistic flavor that will delight fans of historical novels who want more than a touch of facts in their fiction.

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everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
By Kevin Winter
Manhattan Book Review
October 13th, 2015

Where do we separate fact from fiction? When telling a story that is based on fact, where does one start and the other end? This book is inspired by the true story of a young Jew who was born in Hannover, but considered Polish. While he is living in exile in France, he walks into the Reich Embassy and shoots dead a consular official, which kicks off the Night of the Broken Glass. This story takes place after his arrest by the French, and eventual deportation to Nazi Germany. It is told through a series of letters to his German lawyer, awaiting his upcoming trial. In it the young man tells of his growing up in Hannover, his journey to Paris, and his life in Paris in trying to survive in a country that does not want him; but unable to go back to Hannover because the Germans do not want him either. Literally a man without a country.

The concept is interesting.  Telling the story through a series of letters, all one way. It is a bit long and the letters do get a bit dense, but it opens up a world that is largely ignored. A Europe between the wars.

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everyoneEveryone Has Their Reasons: A Review
By Howard Freedman
Off the Shelf
September 3rd, 2015

Composed entirely of letters written to his appointed attorney as he inhabits several prisons, the novel paints a vivid picture of conditions for the thousands of East European Jews living in Germany and France in the 1930s.

Among the notable elements are Grynszpan’s allusions to possible sexual involvement with vom Rath, which has been suggested elsewhere. It is impossible to know whether there is any truth to these assertions or whether it was simply an ingenious bargaining chip to buy time, with fear of embarrassing revelations preventing Germany from going forward with the show trial that Joseph Goebbels was planning for Grynszpan. Indeed, the irony is that, although we have little definitive knowledge of Grynszpan’s ultimate fate, he appears to have spent most of the war in prison before being killed, outliving most of Europe’s Jews.

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