A philosophically charged memoir of a man connecting with a Jewish heritage that he only discovered later in life.
Matustik (Philosophy and Religious Studies/Arizona State Univ.; Radical Evil and the Scarcity of Hope, 2008, etc.) was born in what is now Slovakia in 1957 and orphaned at the age of 14. Later, he signed a document called Charta 77 in defiance of communist authoritarianism, fled Czechoslovakia, and ultimately landed in the United States as a respected academic. Still, none of this fully prepared him for news he received in 1997 that completely upturned his sense of identity. While living in Chicago, he received two letters from Australian relatives revealing his Jewish origins—a major piece of family genealogy that his mother had determined to keep from him. He’d never discussed the horrors of the Holocaust while growing up and never knew that his mother’s family was ravaged by Nazi violence. Fifteen years later, after digging more deeply into his untold history, he discovered the reasons behind his mother’s deliberate silence. Because he was deprived of a full sense of his past, this memoir is an unusual exercise in “postmemory” as he attempts to excavate a personal history he never experienced. A well-known professor of philosophy and the author of six academic books, Matustik places his personal quest in the context of world history, dissecting the plight of the Jews and the global conflict against tyranny that animated the 20th century. His ruminations are often deeply scholarly and literary, spanning an impressive breadth of topics from Plato to Pink Floyd. It all results in a protean work that resists easy categorization—a complex amalgam of the personal and historical that he calls his “philosophical-political quest.” The prose can be soaringly poetic but also dense. However, his attempt to rescue himself from “generational blindness” is both intellectually stirring and emotionally poignant. “Shame is the survivor’s unacknowledged trauma,” he writes. “My mother’s trauma has settled me with her generation’s guilt and my own survivor’s guilt. I have been suffering from her disrepair, even as I survive her traumatized silence.”
An important examination of what it means to discover one’s self and to reclaim one’s sense of belonging.