How tragedy shapes talk
by Ruth Wajnryb
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Silence can be a powerful form of communication. It is often the form that communication takes in the wake of unspeakable trauma. After a half a century, the Holocaust still dominates the homes of survivors and their families. Memory haunts and permeates the home, conditioning survivors' thoughts, their behaviour, their responses to their family, their reactions to government and authority. Applied linguist and academic Dr. Ruth Wajnryb grew up in such a home, living the aftermath of her parents' war as they strove to reconstruct their lives in the wake of a nightmare that could not be talked about.
Using interviews with children of survivors, The Silence explores the process of communication in survivor families from the perspective of the post-war generation. It maps the interconnections of narrative and trauma, and lays bare the oblique and roundabout pathways where talk fragments and disappears into the cracks. Ruth Wajnryb retrieves the fragments and gives words, meaning and a larger coherence to a silence suffered quietly in countless homes. Along the way, we learn her own story and that of her generation, and understand in a broader sense how trauma is transmitted and how it touches and impacts on talk in families. Understanding the language of silence, she believes, is a first step to healing. The Silence is an attempt to understand how trauma and communication interconnect. Given the reality of human exile and uprootedness, communication across the boundaries of culture and trauma is a major social issue of the new millennium.
- Allen & Unwin, June 2001
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