Testimony by Paula Martinac is a historical fiction novel inspired by the true story of Martha Deane, a professor at UCLA. In 1952, Deane was suspended without pay because a neighbor had seen her kissing a woman through a window in Deane’s own house and reported it to the school. That was all it took back then to ruin a person’s career. She was lucky in the sense that her fellow female teachers banded together to help her through the hearings which took months. In the end, she still lost her teaching position, but received compensation from the school and had the records of the hearings “supposedly” purged. They were kept secret until the early 2000’s when a historian found them by accident.
This was not unusual for the time period. Homophobia and discrimination were the norm, and many businesses and schools openly hunted LGBTQ+ people down with the intention of getting rid of them through firings, expulsions and even arrests. Gays and Lesbians had no privacy rights. They could and often were spied on by neighbors or fellow workers whose testimony ruined many lives.
This is the story being told here in a fictionalized version. The author moved the setting to a different state and used a different school. She also moved the time to a later year and obviously fictionalized the characters, but the spirit of what happened in real life to Martha Deane and thousands of other gays and lesbians is recorded here. Ms. Martinac did an amazing job with these characters. They are all written so realistically, I felt like they could step from the pages of the book and be as real as you and I. The characters really do make this story, especially the secondary characters who fought to help Gen, the main character as she worked her way through this nightmare situation. And in spite of the heavy subject matter, this book does have a somewhat uplifting ending.
In many ways, this is not an easy book to read, but I’m sure it was not an easy time to live through either. It is our history though, and that is something we should never forget. If we do, we may end up having to repeat it, so read this book, and keep our stories alive. Testimony has my highest recommendation.
I received an ARC from Bywater Books for an honest review.