REQUIEM LETTERS by Ronald Senator

REQUIEM LETTERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A disturbing real-life tale, made more chilling by this ill-wrought account. In 1950, Senator, at the time a mental patient, miraculously survived a prefrontal leucotomy--a crude brain operation that should have left him ""some kind of vegetable or monster."" Thirteen years later he married Dita (her last name isn't given), a Czech woman who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. Their life together ended tragically in 1981 when Dita died of ovarian cancer. Senator, now a composer, here employs a seemingly sweet though unlikely device to tell their story: the couple ""exchange"" more than 29 letters--with Senator doing the writing for both. Unfortunately, he proves a self-important and vaguely offensive narrator. He writes: ""It was always our joke, wasn't it, darling, that you went to . . . a University of Life--or rather, of Death, at the same time that I went to Oxford. . . . That blue-black number tattooed on your arm was your graduation certificate!"" And throughout the ""correspondence,"" Senator offers little sense of Dita's personality or character beyond her ""victim"" status; he sensationalizes images of Auschwitz; and he constantly brags about his accomplishments (e.g., he writes to Dita of the premiere performance of the Holocaust Requiem he composed in her memory, ""Did you recognize your name inscribed into so many great waves of sound? . . . To tell the truth, I'm astonished at what a big social event it all turned out to be""). It's a pity, because the central story of two ""victims of [their] times"" is remarkable, and the questions they grappled with are meaningful--why they endured ordeals that destroyed many others, or how Senator's misery, indeed any suffering, can be compared with the Holocaust. That Senator concludes with a letter to Dita about his glitzy new life with his sexy new wife (whom he met just three months after Dita's death) merely heightens one's sense of having taken an unpleasant journey in bad company.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Marion Boyars