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Survivor Café

The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

Elizabeth Rosner


List Price: 26.00*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (9/4/2018)
Compact Disc (1/2/2018)
Compact Disc (1/2/2018)


Named a Best Book of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle

"Survivor Caf ...feels like the book Rosner was born to write. Each page is imbued with urgency, with sincerity, with heartache, with heart.... Her words, alongside the words of other survivors of atrocity and their descendants across the globe, can help us build a more humane world." --San Francisco Chronicle

As firsthand survivors of many of the twentieth century's most monumental events--the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields--begin to pass away, Survivor Caf addresses urgent questions: How do we carry those stories forward? How do we collectively ensure that the horrors of the past are not forgotten?

Elizabeth Rosner organizes her book around three trips with her father to Buchenwald concentration camp--in 1983, in 1995, and in 2015--each journey an experience in which personal history confronts both commemoration and memorialization. She explores the echoes of similar legacies among descendants of African American slaves, descendants of Cambodian survivors of the Killing Fields, descendants of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the effects of 9/11 on the general population. Examining current brain research, Rosner depicts the efforts to understand the intergenerational inheritance of trauma, as well as the intricacies of remembrance in the aftermath of atrocity. Survivor Caf becomes a lens for numerous constructs of memory--from museums and commemorative sites to national reconciliation projects to small-group cross-cultural encounters.

Beyond preserving the firsthand testimonies of participants and witnesses, individuals and societies must continually take responsibility for learning the painful lessons of the past in order to offer hope for the future. Survivor Caf offers a clear-eyed sense of the enormity of our twenty-first-century human inheritance--not only among direct descendants of the Holocaust but also in the shape of our collective responsibility to learn from tragedy, and to keep the ever-changing conversations alive between the past and the present.

Counterpoint LLC, 9781619029545, 304pp.

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

About the Author

ELIZABETH ROSNER is the author of three novels and a poetry collection. The Speed of Light was translated into nine languages and won several awards in the US and in Europe, including being shortlisted for the prestigious Prix Femina. Blue Nude was named among the best books of 2006 by the San Francisco Chronicle. Electric City was named among the best books of 2014 by NPR. Her essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Elle, the San Francisco Chronicle and others. She lives in Berkeley, CA.

Conversation Starters from

1. Some insist that the Holocaust is a unique historical event that cannot be discussed alongside any other genocide, before or since. Others emphasize that a shared endeavor to remember and study the Holocaust, including the examination of other atrocities, is key to developing a sense of collective responsibility for the past as well as the future. What are some of the reasons for these different points of view?

2. How do you understand the various goals of memorialization and commemoration? In what ways might these efforts be incompatible and yet also intertwined? Do you feel there is an effective way to distinguish between the past and the present?

3.  What are some of examples of “inadequate language” that you have encountered in your own life, and/or in your field of work or education? What are some of the most problematic words and phrases you have heard used, or found yourself using, and why are they challenging for you?

4. Are you aware of stories in your family and/or your community that you have never heard, but wish you could find out about? Why do you think these stories have remained hidden, or at least have not yet been told?

5. Do you or your family members have certain possessions that have come to represent the history of your ancestors? Is there any object or item that doesn’t necessarily have monetary value but which has been a cherished keepsake for generations? Choose one of those objects and tell its story.

6. In what ways do you observe the inheritance of trauma in your own family and/or culture? It may take the form of silence, or absence. Are there experiences you have had that are unspeakable? Do you believe that experiences must be named in order to be understood?

7. This book interweaves numerous individual as well as collective narratives of violence and loss, war and its long-lasting aftermath. Is there any particular story related in Survivor Café that seemed to have the most powerful effect on you, whether emotionally or intellectually or even physically? Can you talk about why you felt so impacted?

8. Do you feel that your education has included enough breadth as well as depth in the study of genocide and atrocity, past and present? If you were to choose one aspect of Survivor Café to use as a springboard for learning more, what would that subject be? What do you still want to know?