How we view ourselves and how we wish to be seen by others cannot be separated from the stories we tell about our past. In this sense all memory is in crisis, torn between conflicting motives of historical reflection, political expediency, and personal or collective imagination. In Crises of Memory and the Second World War, Susan Suleiman conducts a profound exploration of contested terrain, where individual memories converge with public remembrance of traumatic events.
Suleiman is one of a handful of scholars who have shaped the interdisciplinary study of memory, with its related concepts of trauma, testimony, forgetting, and forgiveness. In this book she argues that memories of World War II, while nationally specific, transcend national boundaries, due not only to the global nature of the war but also to the increasingly global presence of the Holocaust as a site of collective memory. Among the works she discusses are Jean-Paul Sartre’s essays on the occupation and Resistance in France; Marcel Ophuls’ innovative documentary on Klaus Barbie, tried for crimes against humanity; István Szabó’s film Sunshine, a chronicle of Jewish identity in central Europe; literary memoirs by Jorge Semprun and Elie Wiesel; and experimental writing by child survivors of the Holocaust.
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Susan Rubin Suleiman is the Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University.Review:
Suleiman's erudite and elegant essays display a profound understanding of the complexities of memory.
--Chuck Leddy (Boston Globe 2006-07-26)
Suleiman's book results from prolonged reflection going back at least to her autobiographical Budapest Diary (1996). The textual analyses illustrating the evolution of collective memory range chronologically from Sartre's essays on the Occupation to 21st-century works, including novels, essays, memoirs, and documentary and fictional films...Although she cites numerous studies in several languages, from various disciplines, Suleiman's erudition never overpowers or descends to jargon. She poses crucial questions about writing and rewriting, or narrative and generic expectations, debating with other theorists as she does so. Suleiman has written a beautiful book, one that tackles uncomfortable questions about official myths and commemorations, juridically unforgettable crimes, and Jewish identity versus national assimilation. The adjective 'exhilarating,' which Suleiman uses to describe Elie Wiesel's self-correction in All Rivers Run to the Sea, applies equally to this book. The vast WW II and Holocaust literature has needed a study of this clarity and brilliance. Summing Up: Essential.
--A.M. Rea (Choice)
Suleiman's book offers us no sure way of overcoming "crises of memory," but it admirably succeeds in guiding us through a memory landscape that is still (or again) littered with explosive underground mines.
--John Neubauer (Shofar)
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