An Estate of Memory

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ILONA KARMEL was a Holocaust survivor. She taught creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she received the Dean's Award for Distinguished Service in 1994. M.I.T. further recognized Karmel by establishing the Ilona Karmel Writing Prizes to mark her retirement in 1995.

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An Estate of Memory

Ilona Karmel

Afterword by Ruth Kluger

An Estate of Memory is a spiritual novel of growth and regeneration, even in the midst of brutality and death, that recreates in precise detail the daily lives of Jewish women in a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. The taste and feel of the days and seasons, of the varieties of work, are palpable, and the pre-camp memories of the prisoners braid the narrative brilliantly. The novel testifies to survival through cooperation, as it focuses on four women who join together at first to improve their own lives, and ultimately to save the life of a baby. As Adrienne Rich notes, An Estate of Memory is “a woman’s eye view of living beyond the point where life is supposed to have meaning.”

"This is a very good book. Like Solzhenitsyn, Ilona Karmel has succeeded in writing about life in the prison camps as plausible, possible human experience. . . . By the time we are told [that one of them is pregnant], these four women have established themselves in our minds as completely alive, believable, faulty and individual."

The New York Times Book Review

"One of the few great realistic novels about the Nazi camps . . . An Estate of Memory stands in the tradition of the great modern prison books that . . . begins with Fyodor Dostoevsky's The House of the Dead and includes Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Jacobo Timerman's Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number. . . . Ilona Karmel's protagonists are people who cling to relationships that stand out more sharply in a life where selfishness would seem to be identical with self-preservation. A basic assumption of An Estate of Memory, however, is that human beings live by bonding and not in isolation. While Karmel does describe hardship and terror with uncompromising severity, the book is largely about friendship, about women bonding. . . . In a broad and non polemical sense, this is a profoundly feminist book."

—Ruth Kluger Angress, from the Afterward

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