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Revealing The Holocaust in a New and Startling Way - Next Generation Poet Find Words for the Unspeakable

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Filed under: News

Months before poet Murray Reiss was born, his father learned that everyone in his family had perished in the Holocaust. From the day Reiss was born to when his father died, 20 years later, he never spoke a word about the loss of his family. The Survival Rate of Butterflies in the Wild (Hagios Press; 2013) is how Reiss filled his father’s silence with images, metaphors, guesses and dreams – in short, with poems.

“My father’s generation had few words for trauma of any kind, let alone one of this magnitude – the irreparable loss of an entire world. They had no way to think, let alone speak of it”, says Reiss. “It’s fallen to the next generation to inscribe the full dimensions of that loss.”

Haunted by so much death within one family, Reiss asks, how does one learn to live again? How does a ‘second-hand’ survivor move on? As Reiss describes, his father’s “distance from the chimneys didn’t really spare him; his distance from those smokestacks was his disease.”

Governor General’s Award for Poetry winner, Robert Hilles, calls The Survival Rate of Butterflies an astonishing book in which “each poem with its frank accuracy reveals the marrow of that ghostly century and all its madness dreamed in blood”. Hilles says, ”These poems do not spare the truth but force us closer to exposing its light. To look away would be to forsake all those who fought to get us safely here”.

Beyond its historical context, The Survival Rate of Butterflies speaks to universal experiences of grief and loss. It speaks especially to how traumatic personal histories can be transmitted, often unconsciously, from one generation to another and the fearful price of secrecy and silence. 

The Survival Rate of Butterflies will find a place in our ongoing effort to come to terms with a past that defies belief. With fewer and fewer remaining Holocaust survivors left to tell their own stories, this book illuminates some of history’s darkest shadows with a searching, redemptive light.

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