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Survivor Café: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory



Original Language: English (US) | 304 pp. | September 2017

2 Seas Represents: Dutch, French and Nordic Rights 

Rights Sold: Audio (Novel Audio)


“A thoughtful, probing meditation on the fragility of memory and the indelible inheritance of pain.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Rosner 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… [T]hemes 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

“In this important and vital contribution to the conversation about legacy and responsibility, Rosner distills the magnitude of such burdens and defines the scope of memorialization with an elegance and eloquence that reverberates with both depth and nuance.” — Booklist

“Breathtaking… Survivor Café takes on important issues of atrocity, trauma, and memory…with such great clarity and intimacy that the reader will not soon forget them, or this powerful book.” — Viet Thanh Nguyen, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

“A vital, living document that proves the end of war is far from the end of the battle.” —Andrew Carroll, editor of two New York Times bestsellers, War Letters and Behind the Lines

“A staggering work of intellectual vigor and raw emotion…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

“Urgent and necessary, this book offers brave witness to the world we have made and must repair.” — Sarah Sentilles, author of Draw Your Weapons, Breaking Up with God, A Church of Her Own, and Taught by America

“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 profound and unflinching portrait of trauma and the memory of trauma…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

A bold work of non-fiction that examines the ways that survivors, witnesses, and postwar generations talk about and shape traumatic experiences.

As firsthand survivors of many of 20th century’s most monumental events―the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Vietnam War―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?

In this wide-ranging book, Elizabeth Rosner discusses the intergenerational inheritance of trauma, as well as the intricacies of memory and remembrance in the aftermath of genocide and atrocity. Through a series of interconnected pieces, Survivor Café becomes a lens for numerous constructs of memorialization―from Holocaust museums and commemorative sites to educational methodology, from national reconciliation projects to individual cross-cultural encounters.

With her own personal experience as a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, Rosner describes a series of trips to Germany with her father, re-visiting the site of his imprisonment in Buchenwald concentration camp. She extends this exploration to consider 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; the effects of 9/11 on the general population, and others. In a thoughtful examination of language (and its limits), as well as current brain research involving the mechanisms of memory, Rosner depicts a variety of efforts to create a map of human tragedy and transcendence.

Beyond preserving the firsthand testimonies of participants and witnesses, individuals and societies must also continually take responsibility for learning the painful lessons of the past in order to offer hope for the future. Survivor Café offers a clear-eyed sense of the enormity of our 21st 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.