A thoughtful, probing meditation on the fragility of memory and the indelible inheritance of pain.

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SURVIVOR CAFÉ

THE LEGACY OF TRAUMA AND THE LABYRINTH OF MEMORY

Trauma informs a memoir palpable with anger, sorrow, and frustration.

Poet, essayist, and novelist Rosner (Electric City, 2014, etc.) feels an intimate connection to the Holocaust: her father was imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp when he was 15, and her mother, at the age of 12, fled from her home in the Vilna ghetto and lived in hiding for two years, until the Russians drove the Nazis out of Poland. The two met later, married, and immigrated to the United States, where Rosner and her siblings were born. German culture and language were forbidden in her family, yet the author’s life was shadowed by her parents’ history. “Shards of their past lodged themselves inside me at birth, if not before,” she writes, which infused her life with “grief, anxiety, rage, and so much more.” Those emotions are shared, Rosner knows, with many others whose lives were blighted by atrocities: Vietnamese boat people, victims of the Cambodian Killing Fields, Japanese descendants of atom-bomb survivors or families interned in American camps, and survivors of Armenian, Rwandan, or Native American genocides. Although she empathetically considers others’ experiences, her focus is on how her own identity has been shaped. The author looks to epigenetics for evidence of intergenerational trauma, passed to offspring in “mother’s milk drenched in sadness” and other visceral ways: “we are inheriting more than the overt repeating of survival stories.” Rosner acknowledges the need “to interrupt the cycle of trauma” through therapy and, at the same time, believes that the culture urgently needs those stories to ensure that the past will not be forgotten. She repeatedly expresses frustration with the inadequacy of words to convey horrific reality as well as by memorials and museums that fall short of offering “a personal shape for such collective and monumental mourning.” Central to the narrative are three visits to Buchenwald with her father, for a commemoration, where inmates, liberators, and German residents gathered at a Survivor’s Café, an emotional reunion.

A thoughtful, probing meditation on the fragility of memory and the indelible inheritance of pain.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-954-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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