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Survivor Café

The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory

List Price: $26.00

ON SALE: September 12, 2017 | Hardcover | 6 x 9 , 304 pages | ISBN 9781619029545

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

As firsthand survivors of many of the twentieth century’s most monumental events—the Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, 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, revisiting 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 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.

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. Learn more at


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

“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

“Elizabeth Rosner’s Survivor Café is about how we inherit, not just our histories, but the complexities of how we survive them. With the heart of a poet, Rosner unpeels the layers of trauma in a way that will stay with you long after you read the last page.” —Emily Rapp Black, author of The Still Point of the Turning World

“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

“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

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