Esther Safran Foer grew up in a family where history was too terrible to speak of. The child of parents who were each the sole survivors of their respective families, for Esther the Holocaust was always felt but never discussed. So when Esther's mother casually mentions an astonishing revelation--that her father had a previous wife and daughter, both killed in the Holocaust--Esther resolves to find the truth.
... poignant ... Through Safran Foer's photographs, scant recollections, connections with experts from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and her travels to Kolki and Trochenbrod, I Want You to Know We're Still Here explores how to remember loved ones when all that is known is a name--and sometimes not even that ... In this heartfelt and compelling post-Holocaust memoir, a woman dedicates herself to learning the truth of the stories that framed her family's lifelong silences and traumas.
The nooks and crannies that don’t fit a historical narrative are important. The book is steeped in history but, crucially, not concerned with history. It is concerned with family, with memory. This, as they say, is personal ... a moving book. Much of the narrative is sad. Death, silence, emptiness haunt the work. There are things that may never be known. But the telling is unique and interesting. The book succeeds in putting names (or more precisely, stories) to things that exist only as artefacts, and inversely putting physicality to things that exist only as story ... The delineation between history and memory is a significant one, and gives an interesting angle to the narrative.
As the events themselves recede, the rich literature of second- and third-generation Holocaust memoirs continues to grow. But the terrain it charts — including the inevitable journey back to the Old Country to find traces of a vanished world and mourn the dead — has become increasingly familiar. Foer’s rambling, repetitive narrative, marred by pedestrian prose and a profusion of mundane details, is, at best, a minor contribution to this burgeoning genre ... Foer also cites an idea, which she credits to Columbia University professor Marianne Hirsch, that 'inherited memories — traumatic fragments of events — defy narrative reconstruction.' Foer’s disjointed memoir, with its abrupt time shifts and obsessive recitation of the names of the dead, seems to exemplify that dictum.