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Requiem Letters

Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd
1995/09/01

Requiem Letters Overview

A dramatic and original biography of a married couple, each violated in different ways but bound together by their suffering, their mutual understanding and love, and a desperate struggle for renewal. These twin biographies are brought to life by an imaginary exchange of letters in which, nevertheless, the events described are completely factual. Dita was an inmate of Auschwitz as a young girl - she and her father were the only surviving members of her Czech-Hungarian family. Ronald, a Londoner, was the victim of a dangerous and unnecessary prefrontal leucotomy, against his will, in the knife-happy days when this operation was common and left a pathetic trail of zombies vegetating in the asylums. To say simply that Ronald 'survived', to become a composer and scholar of international repute, is to gloss over the long and painful path of recovery he describes. Dita trod a parallel path, although the trauma each suffered was of a different nature. Auschwitz does not ever relinquish its victims: it remained a perpetual assassin in the wings, and even Dita's death from cancer, nearly forty years later, was perhaps its final victory. This imaginary correspondence is remarkable for the vivid picture it paints of a living death inside Auschwitz as well as the fearful existence of a patient inside a mental hospital in mid-century Britain. Above all, the intimate letters reveal a deep commitment and compassion between two people, a love-story intertwined with the horrific historical events of our time.


Requiem Letters Table Of Content

Foreword 11
Prelude: Ronald to Dita 15
Letter One: Ronald to Dita / Canterbury Cathedral 19
Letter Two: Dita to Ronald / My dying, and my father's 27
Letter Three: Ronald to Dita / Cancer Hospital. Losing your hair 35
Letter Four: Dita to Ronald / Entry into Auschwitz 47
Letter Five: Ronald to Dita / Oxford 55
Archangel's Central Office: Report on Russian and German Camps 69
Letter Six: Ronald to Dita / Your photo in Auschwitz. Burial of soap 78
Letter Seven: Dita to Ronald / What the soap meant to me 82
Letter Eight: Ronald to Dita / In a dark time. Monasteries 87
Letter Nine: Dita to Ronald / Inside Auschwitz, my life saved by Livy 101
Letter Ten: Ronald to Dita / Montserrat. My imprisonment in Barcelona 112
Letter Eleven: Dita to Ronald / The insane march. The Russians arrive 118
Letter Twelve: Ronald to Dita / I can't bear it any more! 124
Letter Thirteen: Dita to Ronald / All the good things 125
Letter Fourteen: Ronald to Dita / Your ceramics. Kiss of the frogs 134
Letter Fifteen: Dita to Ronald / Going home! What is home? 139
Letter Sixteen: Ronald to Dita / This is fantasy. Why do you haunt me? 146
Letter Seventeen: Dita to Ronald / Mythology and Auschwitz 150
From the Office of Demonology: Templates and Stereotypes 155
Letter Eighteen: Dita to Ronald / The palace of my childhood 163
Letter Nineteen: Ronald to Dita / Bombs and the end of childhood 174
Letter Twenty: Dita to Ronald / The brick factory and the transports 188
Letter Twenty-One: Ronald to Dita / The operation on my brain 195
Archangel's Central Office: Report on brain surgery 209
Letter Twenty-Two: Ronald to Dita / Growing limbs again 215
Letter Twenty-Three: Dita to Ronald / The joy of living 222
Letter Twenty-Four: Ronald to Dita / Communities I lived in 225
Letter Twenty-Five: Dita to Ronald / The spider's web 235
Letter Twenty-Six: Ronald to Dita / The community we lived in together 238
Letter Twenty-Seven: Dita to Ronald / Community life 249
Letter Twenty-Eight: Dita to Ronald / Why your silence? 256
Letter Twenty-Nine: Ronald to Dita / My new life 258
Chronology 269


Requiem Letters Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

Senator, an English composer whose works include the Pulitzer-nominated oratorio Holocaust Requiem and the musical Trotsky in New York (with Anthony Burgess), was hospitalized in 1950 as ``psychotic.'' He underwent electroshock and a prefrontal lobotomy, a dangerous, unnecessary brain operation popular in the 1940s and '50s that left many of its victims human vegetables. His recovery, which took many years, was facilitated by his experience living in CHOFA (``chosen family''), a therapy-oriented countercultural community where, in 1960, he met his Czech-born future wife, Dita. Her traumas were far more terrible: an Auschwitz survivor, she lost her whole family except her father in the Holocaust. Senator, whose own father's family perished in concentration camps and in the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos, casts this deeply moving and haunting autobiographical memoir as an exchange of letters between himself and his wife, who died of cancer in 1981. The reader eavesdrops on an intimate communion between two souls who helped each other heal. (Mar.)

Kirkus Reviews

A disturbing real-life tale, made more chilling by this ill- wrought account.

In 1950, Senator, at the time a mental patient, miraculously survived a prefrontal leucotomy—a crude brain operation that should have left him "some kind of vegetable or monster." Thirteen years later he married Dita (her last name isn't given), a Czech woman who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. Their life together ended tragically in 1981 when Dita died of ovarian cancer. Senator, now a composer, here employs a seemingly sweet though unlikely device to tell their story: the couple "exchange" more than 29 letters—with Senator doing the writing for both. Unfortunately, he proves a self-important and vaguely offensive narrator. He writes: "It was always our joke, wasn't it, darling, that you went to . . . a University of Life—or rather, of Death, at the same time that I went to Oxford. . . . That blue-black number tattooed on your arm was your graduation certificate!" And throughout the "correspondence," Senator offers little sense of Dita's personality or character beyond her "victim" status; he sensationalizes images of Auschwitz; and he constantly brags about his accomplishments (e.g., he writes to Dita of the premiere performance of the Holocaust Requiem he composed in her memory, "Did you recognize your name inscribed into so many great waves of sound? . . . To tell the truth, I'm astonished at what a big social event it all turned out to be"). It's a pity, because the central story of two "victims of [their] times" is remarkable, and the questions they grappled with are meaningful—why they endured ordeals that destroyed many others, or how Senator's misery, indeed any suffering, can be compared with the Holocaust.

That Senator concludes with a letter to Dita about his glitzy new life with his sexy new wife (whom he met just three months after Dita's death) merely heightens one's sense of having taken an unpleasant journey in bad company.


Readers' Reviews


Requiem Letters

Book Info

  • Book Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13: 9780714529998
  • ISBN-10: 0714529990
  • Number of Pages: 272
  • Dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.90 (d)
  • Approx Price: $1.99
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