Synopses & Reviews
As 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.
"Novelist Rosner (Electric City) shines an unblinking light on the most horrific of 20th-century crimes and asks: What is the intergenerational legacy of trauma?... She considers art, anniversaries, memorials, and psychotherapy, but the most powerful technique she finds for dealing with trauma is simply telling the story behind it... Themes of memory, language, and the bodily imprint of trauma are powerful, as are Rosner’s accounts of revisiting Buchenwald with her father... Rosner’s conclusions — that powerful suffering must be communicated before healing can occur and that the most profound of human atrocities must be acknowledged so that their like does not happen again — open the door to understanding and, optimistically, show a path to peace." Publishers Weekly
"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
"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
"In this haunting and poetic book, Elizabeth Rosner summons her readers to a deep and abiding commemoration of genocide. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Rosner describes scientific evidence that deep trauma persists not only emotionally but also physically through generations. This is an inspired, illuminated book — the fruit of hard experience and deep study. I salute Elizabeth Rosner’s Survivor Café, a work of wisdom and, ultimately, hope." Elizabeth Farnsworth, author of A Train Through Time
"A thoughtful, probing meditation on the fragility of memory and the indelible inheritance of pain." Kirkus Reviews
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.