In her memoir Afterlight, Isa Milman recounts her struggles as the child of Holocaust survivors. Fraught with memories of the Holocaust, modern politics, and long family histories featuring better times, the book articulates a painful struggle against rootlessness. In the process, Milman also seeks her family history out in Poland and Ukraine.
At the behest of her eighty-nine-year-old mother, Milman bears witness to the difficult survival of Polish Jews during World War II. Milman’s mother, Sabina, saved herself with quick thinking, drawing on her facility with languages to do so. Her father’s skills as a machinist were also useful. Still, both were sent to a Siberian gulag. Of Milman’s four aunts, three—those who fled to the Soviet Union––survived.
The death of Sabina’s twin, who stayed behind with their parents, haunts the book. Her absence, and the need to understand the weight of that loss, results in Milman traveling to Poland and Ukraine to find out what happened to her aunt, and to seek understanding about the part she plays in their family history.
The book’s multitude of figures includes family members and those with whom chance encounters proved important. They arise across time periods, from the period of WWII and into the recent present. The book has the finesse of a novel, including with its sense of foreshadowing. It is emotional and hefty, but also composed; the devastating facts contribute to the sense that it is a meticulous, rich family history. Family photographs augment its work.
Written with powerful awareness and historical heft, the memoir Afterlight follows the daughter of Holocaust survivors as she travels to unpack her lifetime of living with the aftermath of a genocide.
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