Reviews

KIRKUS INDIE BOOK REVIEW (March 27, 2015)

A philosophically charged memoir of a man connecting with a Jewish heritage that he only discovered later in life.

Matustik (Philosophy and Religious Studies/Arizona State Univ.; Radical Evil and the Scarcity of Hope, 2008, etc.) was born in Slovakia in 1957 and orphaned at the age of 14. Later, he signed a document called Charta 77 in defiance of Communist authoritarianism, fled Czechoslovakia, and ultimately landed in the United States as a respected academic. Still, none of this fully prepared him for news he received in 1997 that completely upturned his sense of identity. While living in Chicago, he received two letters from Australian relatives revealing his Jewish origins—a major piece of family genealogy that his mother had determined to keep from him. He’d never discussed the horrors of the Holocaust while growing up, and never knew that his mother’s family was ravaged by Nazi violence. Fifteen years later, after digging more deeply into his untold history, he discovered the reasons behind his mother’s deliberate silence.

Because he was deprived of a full sense of his past, this memoir is an unusual exercise in “postmemory,” as he attempts to excavate a personal history he never experienced. A well-known professor of philosophy and the author of six academic books, Matustik places his personal quest in the context of world history, dissecting the plight of the Jews and the global conflict against tyranny that animated the 20th century. His ruminations are often deeply scholarly and literary, spanning an impressive breadth of topics from Plato to Pink Floyd. It all results in a protean work that resists easy categorization—a complex amalgam of the personal and historical that he calls his “philosophical-political quest.” The prose can be soaringly poetic, but also dense. However, his attempt to rescue himself from “generational blindness” is both intellectually stirring and emotionally poignant. “Shame is the survivor’s unacknowledged trauma,” he writes. “My mother’s trauma has settled me with her generation’s guilt and my own survivor’s guilt. I have been suffering from her disrepair, even as I survive her traumatized silence.”

An important examination of what it means to discover one’s self, and to reclaim one’s sense of belonging.

Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 6411 Burleson Rd., Austin, TX 78744 indie@kirkusreviews.com

March 1, 2015, The Midwest Book Review 

Out of Silence: Repair Across Generations exposes two closely-held family secrets to the public eye: secrets that affected the author’s identity and perception of himself and which ultimately led to revelations that would re-unite pathways destroyed by regimes and decisions.

It took a shoebox full of diaries and writings to bring this truth to light. This discovery shook the author’s long-held beliefs about who he was, his family’s past, and its place in the present. And his decision to write Out of Silence serves as testimony not just to his family’s struggles and survival mechanisms, but to the process by which secrets revealed come to repair long-broken lives.

The course of charting this process could have been so much different, under a different pen. Here it assumes an immediacy that is rare even in a memoir, with Matuštík focused on capturing the sights, smells, ethical questions, and complicated facets of Jewish relationships to the world.

In the course of the author’s journey, underlying prejudices, perceptions, and broader concerns of the modern world are revealed as Jew and non-Jew alike consider the lasting impact of history’s influence: “But it would be nice,” I suggest, “if the city placed a memorial plaque here for the Beck family. They were the only surviving Jewish household from Myjava that was repatriated there after after the war.” Apparently Mr. Valášek didn’t know this. “Many different people lived in this house,” he retorts, obviously not sure that he would like to have a memorial plaque to Jews on his building.”

Soon the bigger picture comes to light: the stories not just of his own family’s survival, but of those who interacted with the Jews in a time of darkness: “The following day, Patricia and I meet with Borsuk and Vrana, sons of the two Myjava partisan families who helped hide the Becks. They confirm the Beck story from their youthful memories. Beckov tells a much bigger story of survival. In 1941 Nathan already knew his family would have to struggle for their existence.”

So many accounts have been written about Holocaust survival that one might wonder at the need for yet another, and at its approach. In truth, Out of Silence explores more than one man’s family, one family’s secrets, and the journey it provokes. It provides a gripping account of the process of discovery and reconciliation not just between generations, but between peoples; and it succeeds in documenting the lasting effects of decisions, choices, and survival mechanisms from past to present worlds.

It’s a journey that embraces three generations, five continents, and a cast of supporting characters over the decades. The time span is winding and embraces the period from before the Holocaust to WW 2, the author’s birth in the Communist era, and his journey from Czechoslovakia to the US and back, after the fall of the Iron Curtain; and it even includes the author’s discovery of lost family connections in Australia.

His is a narrative that brings the personal and the political in line with history and experience, and it’s an approach that holds vivid immediacy and meaning for any student of the Holocaust and its presence in today’s world. To aid in this study, it should be noted that photography and online resources for teaching are offered at http://www.newcriticaltheory.com. The book is well illustrated and at 348 pages, it’s a solid read.

It stands at the crossroads of theology, social and political analysis, and literature, and handily complements existing works, adding more research than most to elevate it well beyond the ‘simple memoir’ genre; making it a top pick for any collection strong in history and the psychology of family relationships as a whole: “From all the things you have done in your life, which do you consider to be the most important?” I turned our conversation sharply away from myself. My father thought long and hard. Looking with glazed eyes far into distance, he said something Sisyphean yet at odds with any real effort at speaking. “I do not know; if I knew, then I would not have made such a mess out of my life.” I was astonished by the naked poverty of his truth. What would make him happy? Was there anything he loved with all his heart?”

Diane Donovan, Author, eBook Reviewer for Midwest Book Review, Editor of California Bookwatch, the review is included in the Book Review Index

www.donovansliteraryservices.com

http://www.midwestbookreview.comOut of Silence

SHORT COMMENTS

Martin Beck Matuštík’s narrative of his discovery of his Mother’s two secrets is breath-taking. The first—that he is Jewish—altered his life irrevocably. The second—concerning the reasons for which his Mother concealed their Jewish origins—complicated that origin and that discovery irreparably. Recounting his personal history from the disclosure of the first in the summer of 1997 to his unveiling of the second in the spring of 2012, his book remains a testimony to all of us who live in the wake of disaster, which is to say, who struggle with its posthumous or Lazarean dimensions, which is to say, to all of us.

sandorGoodhartFSandor Goodhart, Professor of English and Jewish Studies, Purdue University

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Who will stop the resentments of the era of the two twentieth-century beastly regimes? The stories of our fathers and grandfathers?  Lord Karel Schwarzenberg, a Czech politician and wise man, recently placed in doubt my fragile optimism, saying, “One can inherit and pass prejudices to another generation, but not life experience.” Yes, but the life stories, such as Dr. Matuštík’s multigenerational drama, Out of Silence, leave visible traces. We should not store them in institutional file cabinets.

GalFedor Gál, Ph.D., author, journalist, and film documentarist was a cofounder and chair of the Public against Violence, the movement that in 1989 brought down Communism in Slovakia. He was born at the end of World War II in the Czech concentration camp Terezin http://www.kratkadlouhacesta.cz

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To re-pair is to bring back together that which has been torn asunder. This poignant memoir, through bringing together the visual and the audible, the olfactory and the gastronomic, the past and the present, reaches forth for the ethical meaning of life as uncovering the spiritual depths of ethical responsibility. As a major critical theorist of philosophy and religion, Matuštík raises the question  of becoming a Jew, and this question, as told through the complicated relationship to his mother and, through her, to his extended family and the wider Jewish people, becomes a question of communal self-critique. From Shoa to Communist Czechoslovakia to post-Communist Eastern Europe to the very human and often overlooked dimensions of how individuals and communities part and reconcile, Out of Silence is a powerfully naked, movingly poignant, and courageously liberating portrait.

Gordon

Lewis R. Gordon, Professor of Philosophy, Africana Studies, and Judaic Studies, UCONN-Storrs; Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor, Rhodes University, South Africa; and EuroPhilosophy Chair, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, France

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After more than twenty-five years of bringing works on the history of the Holocaust and Jewish culture to the light of print, I can honestly assert we have not read a book which so edifies the theological issues bound up in the history of a family rent apart by war and politics, anti-Semitism and the subsequent clashes of Communist and capitalist cultures. The author’s expertise in philosophical and religious studies and his truly advanced perspective in the philosophical and public aspects of his family’s journey provide an unusual opportunity for readers to follow a memoiristic literary nonfiction narrative while engaging the theoretical and historical issues as well.

AdelsonAlan Adelson, Executive Director of Jewish Heritage Project, the International Initiative in the Literature of the Holocaust, New York

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SLOVAK LANGUAGE DISCUSSIONS slovakia1938

Čo a kto dnes zastaví resentimenty na éru tých dvoch zverských režimov? Príbehy našich otcov a dedov?  Môj chabý optimizmus nedávno v jednom rozhovore spochybnil Karel Schwarzenberg, knieža, politik a múdry pán: „Životní zkušenost se nedědí, nejde předat další generaci. Předsudky ano.“ Áno, ale životné príbehy akým je niekolkogeneračná skutočná dráma, Out of Silence, od Dr. Matuštíka, zanechávajú stopy. Podaktoré aj  viditeľné. Akurát ich netreba ukladať do kredencov inštitúcií.

Fedor Gál, Ph.D., autor, publicista, filmový dokumentarista http://www.kratkadlouhacesta.cz, spolGaluzakladateľ a predseda hnutia, Verejnosť Proti Násiliu, které v roku 1989 viedlo k pádu komunizmu na Slovensku; narodil sa ku koncu vojny v koncentračnom tábore Terezin

 

 

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