Synopses & Reviews
As featured on NPR and in The New York Times, Survivor Café is a bold work of nonfiction that examines the ways that survivors, witnesses, and post-war generations talk about and shape traumatic experiences.
As firsthand survivors of many of the twentieth century's most monumental events — the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields — begin to pass away, Survivor Café 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 Café becomes a lens for numerous constructs of memory—from museums and commemorative sites to national reconciliation projects to small-group cross-cultural encounters.
Survivor Café 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.
"Mixing the personal with the historical and the literary with the scholarly, Rosner achieves a breathtaking overview of events as varied as the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the Rwandan genocide, and Japanese American internment. Her impressive, highly readable Survivor Café takes on important issues of atrocity, trauma, and memory, rendering them all with such great clarity and intimacy that the reader will not soon forget them, or this powerful book." Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sympathizer
"In Survivor Café, Elizabeth Rosner brilliantly captures both the enormity of war and its enduring aftershocks — the devastating legacies for victims, perpetrators, and societies who suffer through and beyond it. A mixture of history, personal narrative, and research, the book expertly documents how atrocities are passed down through generations and how we may find ways to contain this pernicious inheritance. Survivor Café is a vital, living document that proves the end of war is far from the end of the battle." Andrew Carroll, editor of the New York Times bestsellers War Letters and Behind the Lines
“A staggering work of intellectual vigor and raw emotion, Survivor Café mines the darkest recesses of our collective past, excavating both the hate and hope of human history. Rosner's intimate handling of intergenerational trauma, as well as the need to acknowledge and transcend it, reminds us of the power and mercy of stories. In our current age of hyper-immediacy, with increasingly short news cycles and even shorter memories, Rosner's work reminds us of our sacred duty to carry these stories forward like a lantern in the dark.” Aline Ohanesian, author of Orhan's Inheritance
"Using the Holocaust as a focal point, Survivor Café renders a profound and unflinching portrait of trauma and the memory of trauma, the consequences of inhumanity, atrocities that do not end with one generation but are inherited as nightmare, memory, and affliction, passed on to the next generation and the next and the next. With vivid stories and brilliant insights, this book must be required reading for those who want to understand not just our collective history but the present moment." Susan Griffin, award-winning author of A Chorus of Stones
"There’s been a slew of research examining the genetic effects of psychological trauma, but author Elizabeth Rosner is among the first to take a deep dive into the personal implications of such inheritance with her stunning new book, Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory.” Orange County Register
"Survivor Café — which combines moving personal narrative with illuminating research into the impact of mass trauma on a personal and cultural scale — feels like the book Rosner was born to write. Each page is imbued with urgency, with sincerity, with heartache, with heart." San Francisco Chronicle
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. Rosner's essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Elle, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. She lives in Berkeley, California.