Bruck, Edith. Letter to My Mother.
Bruck, Edith. Lettera alla madre. Ed. and Introduction by Gabriella Romani. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2006.
This double volume is the seventeenth book to be published through the Modern Language Association's Texts and Translations series, founded in 1991 to make important books more available to upper-level university students. A new edition of Edith Bruck's critically acclaimed novel Lettera alla madre is finally available along with the (first) English translation of the text, appropriately titled Letter to My Mother. Both versions contain a clear, in-depth and informative introduction authored by Gabriella Romani (vii-xxii), followed by an insightful set of "Suggestions for Further Reading" (xxiii) and a complete list of "Works by Bruck" (xxv). The new (second) edition of the original Italian text was edited by Romani, and it includes a brief "Note" stating that after its release in 1988 Lettera alla madre went out of print quickly (xxvii). This note does not appear in the translation. Instead, it bears a brief "Translator's Note" by Brenda Webster describing the lengthy process of translating the book, which had actually begun in the early 1990's before she first met with Bruck for an interview ("An Interview with Edith Bruck." 13th Moon 11 : 170-175).
Letter to My Mother is a two-part work of fiction: the first text gives the book its name, and consists of a fictional dialogue between a woman and her mother, who was killed upon their arrival in Auschwitz. The second text, titled "Traces," includes a skillfully constructed frame tale that interweaves a potentially autobiographical description of a journey to Dachau with a short story that was supposedly authored by the narrator-protagonist. The short story in question addresses the central notion in Letter; or rather, "the difficult process of remembering and representing a trauma of the past" (Introduction, xix-xx). Although the novel portrays the process of revisiting past traumas as extremely difficult and painful, it also highlights the fundamental importance of recording and documenting historical injustices, in order to bear witness to one's personal loss and to honor and remember those who can no longer speak for themselves.
Originally published by Garzanti (Milano, 1988), Lettera alla madre was awarded the Premio Letterario Nazionale "Citta di Penne" in the same year, as well as the prestigious Premio Rapallo in 1989. More than any of her other publications, which include fourteen works of prose and four books of poetry, Lettera grabbed the attention of readers, editors and critics for its daring, creative and intensely autobiographical approach to the subject of the Holocaust. This work is the only instance in which the author addresses the issue of forced deportation and imprisonment in Auschwitz at length under the guise of fiction. There are certainly many points of contact between Bruck's biography and the multiple references in Lettera to the concentration camps and their destructive effect on her relationship with her mother. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake for readers to assume that every detail contained in this text was designed to construct an accurate depiction of this relationship. While Lettera was certainly envisioned as a way to rekindle a dialogue that was forcibly interrupted by violence, one must bear in mind that Bruck has always walked a fine line between fiction and autobiography, playfully mixing them to the point of making truth and fiction almost impossible to distinguish. A case in point, as underlined by Romani, is the figure of the father in this text who must be read as a fictional representation of the author's real father, even though the character was "infused with strong autobiographical elements" (Introduction, xix).
Webster and Romani's skillful and meticulous translation of Lettera marks an important stepping-stone in the process of bringing Bruck's considerable body of work to an Anglophone readership. It is also the first book of fiction by the author to be published in the United States. In fact, prior to 2006, the only fictional text by Bruck available in English was a short story from her collection Andremo in citta, the original version of which was published in Milan (1962) by Lerici CA Surprise." Trans. Ruth Feldman. Fiction 7.3 : 22-32). Webster and Romani have achieved an artfully fluid and creative use of language while retaining an impressive degree of fidelity to the features of the original Italian. Their translation also offers the English-speaking world an impressive work of literature that dares to express something that language is not properly equipped to convey. In her introduction Romani even references the notion that "Ianguage constrains the representation of trauma" (xx). Nonetheless, the interlocutors in Lettera now inhabit a new linguistic shell, one in which someone's mother might snap and say "You be quiet!" if she were angry (115). In reading the work of a transnational, trans-lingual author like Edith Bruck, one should always bear in mind that her mother never said "Tu taci" to her, not in those words. One could even argue that the original edition of Lettera is a translation in itself, as it draws much of its inspiration from a Hungarian household that was shattered by the spread of fascism and racism in Europe during the 1940's.
The availability of Lettera in print will bave a significant impact on the fields of Italian studies, Women's studies, Gender Studies, Jewish studies, Holocaust studies, and Comparative Literature. More importantly, readers will now be able to delve further into the female experience in the concentration camps through the voice of an author who speaks for an understudied group of victims and survivors of the Shoah: those born into poor Jewish families from Eastern Europe who were suffering the pains of hunger and poverty long before they were deported by the Nazis. The publication of Letter to My Mother through the MLA Texts and Translations series will certainly bring an influx of critical attention to Bruck's writing on an international scale. Its release will also serve to remind readers that the role of the "writer-witness" that has often been used to describe Bruck's literary production is not temporary in nature (Bruck, Edith. Signora Auschwitz:
Il dono della parola. Venezia: Marsilio, 1999.13). On the contrary, it is a constantly evolving task that often presents new and unforeseen challenges. After all, as Romani rightfully points out, Bruck believes that "through literature, history and imagination can meet in fruitful and unexpected ways" (Introduction, xx).
University of Connecticut
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2009|
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