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Talking with Shoshana Surek

Shoshana Surek is a first-generation American and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. She earned her MA and her MFA Creative Writing from Regis University. To read more of her published work, visit www.shoshanasurek.com.

Shoshana’s essay “Felix Phillipp Lovász is a good Christian Name” will appear in the Summer 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder to reserve your copy or subscribe at a discount by June 30.

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In your essay, you explore the intersection of the Holocaust and family history, and specifically how trauma transforms people. When you started thinking about this piece, were there any concerns about addressing that trauma or carrying your family’s story forward?

This is a very important question. It is one that I ask each time I write about my family’s experiences and again when I make the decision to share them. I have always felt like a secondhand storyteller. The stories I have been told are indelibly mixed with my own reality. Every trauma I have experienced seemed small against those I grew up understanding. I compared the wrongs against me to the unthinkable wrongs against millions. Because of that, I feel it is critical to retell those things which they cannot. This is the second aspect of retelling stories such as my grandparent’s and my father’s. It is a sad realization that while they are uniquely theirs, the stories are not singular. I hear stories such as theirs over and over from countless victims and victim’s families from all over the world. It feels as though, to paraphrase Elie Wiesel, the indifference of humanity becomes the epitome of evil. Not telling what I know, even though it is not my experience, feels like an indifference to me.

There is a beautifully abstract quality to the story, in part due to the process of relaying events from person to person. How did you organize the structure of the piece, and were there any other writers’ work who you thought of or helped inform these choices?

Thank you. I did not set out to write this piece in a particular order; in fact, there is an accidental order which comes from the trauma of hearing the stories many times, almost always over breakfast while my grandmother stood at the stove, and then forgetting them promptly to get on with the naiveté of childhood. They resurfaced in random order and ended up on the page piece by piece, detail by detail, in an order that often surprised me.

At the same time, I cannot read and not be influenced by writers. When I started this piece, and the longer work from which it is derived, I was working on and reading poetry. A few books that are still on my bedside table: Layli Long Soldier, Khadijah Queen, Ai, and Claudia Rankine. And because I am starting to offer my Young Adult novel to agents, I am rereading literary YA which impacted the manuscript, such as Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit, I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.

This story recalls a very small part of your family’s larger history, and I am sure there is much more. Do you plan on continuing down this line of inquiry in your work, or do you have other writing projects you are looking at for the rest of the year?

Yes, this story comes from a larger collection. The stories bounce back and forth between my father’s story and my own experiences. Published pieces from the collection can be read on my website, www.ShoshanaSurek.com, and I hope to have the full manuscript picked up by next year. I also have a literary Young Adult manuscript that I am just now sending to agents. It is about the fallout in society after making the same mistakes in new ways over and over… and the children trapped in that world who must evolve to survive. It is, of course, influenced by my family’s story, and tells of the resilience of the human spirit despite the efforts of a few who wish to destroy it.