Book review | 'The Butcher's Daughter': A story of survival, suffering and, finally, making peace

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"The Butcher's Daughter, a Memoir," by Florence Grende, a Berkshire resident, is the story of a family that survives the Holocaust and makes their way as immigrants in America.

It follows the author from an early age, witnessing her parents and extended family cope with very recent and unimaginable trauma, on through to the conclusion of this special memoir — her Bat Mitzvah on her 50th birthday. This final episode in her memoir is profound, having passed through a matrix of challenges both emotional and spiritual, to have finally resolved serious issues with the past, ready to embrace Judaism fully, and represent a new generation of people who she embodies.

Grende's parents manage to survive deportation to death camps by escaping the ghettos, hiding out in the woods in Poland. For her father, survival lead to organized guerrilla warfare as a partisan against their Nazi persecutors. When Grende crosses the Atlantic with her parents as a little girl after the war, they settle into a small tenement in New York. Early life is tormented by how Dee Melchomeh, (WWII and the Holocaust), has affected her parents.

Growing up as an American girl, interpreting her unique family heritage, the memoir tells how she discovers her identity. In 68 exquisite and powerfully evocative vignettes of poetic prose in three sections (I-Outside, America Waits, II-Dee Melchomeh, and III-Afterwards), Grende tells us her story. It is, of course, the story of her family, those they left behind in death camps, how the author and her family negotiate the promise of a new country and how she bravely makes peace with it all. Grende eventually resolves in her heart and spirit how to go on and honor the suffering souls of her past.

History can be told accurately, even fully, for any number of people. But for the individuals who go through it on their own, personally, and for their families, the stories multiply and divide into fine-grained experiences, meanings, and manifestations. "The Butcher's Daughter" is an important memoir for these reasons. It is a heartfelt journey of discovery that goes deep into its quest for remembrance and connection. The journey Grende shares with us is personal and it is a gift to know all she learned. This memoir excels in telling these stories of the author and her family so accurately and so that we, the readers, feel involved. It is innovative, sincere and successful in its style and voice. It is one of those books that sheds important new light on the Holocaust and how these families coped with being refugees from a Europe with a horrific past. The story continues, right on through with this author's story, and our own.

Colin Harrington is the Events Manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. Colin welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com

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