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Reviewed by:
Maria Rice Bellamy. Bridges to Memory: Postmemory in Contemporary Ethnic American Women's Fiction. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2015. xii + 190 pp.

Throughout Maria Rice Bellamy's Bridges to Memory, the figure of trauma's ghost resonates. Its presence echoes; its residue clarifies as often as it clouds. It even manifests literally in the fictional narratives at the center of the book's focus. But this is not a book that lets trauma's ghost remain in the shadows. Through the theory of postmemory, what Bellamy offers is a concerted realignment of the way contemporary ethnic women writers engage generationally with traumatic pasts that is both conceptually distinctive and socially forceful. With deft treatment, the ghostly presence of trauma is engaged to recover the violent experiences of ethnic American women often "repressed from mainstream social consciousness" and reimagine the effect of its legacy on future generations as they work toward repair (3). Reading works such as Gayl Jones's Corregidora, Octavia Butler's Kindred, Phyllis Alesia Perry's Stigmata, Cristina García's Dreaming in Cuban, Nora Okja Keller's Comfort Woman, and Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker, Bellamy casts each as revelatory: braiding narratives of past, present, and future generations to draw attention to and expose "inherited forms of traumatic memory" (2). It is with this emphasis that Bridges to Memory gains ethical force. By drawing together narratives whose focus is to illuminate the "suffering of others" through practices of "mediation" (5), the book identifies the experience of violent trauma not solely as the domain of the individual but as "intersubjective communion" (4). Theorizing this experience in terms of postmemory, Bellamy negotiates trauma as a space "inhabited by narrators and auditors, survivors and descendants, in which temporal and subjective boundaries are blurred, allowing the memories of one to haunt and infect the other." She navigates facets of postmemory not simply to identify a new contemporary genre of the postmemorial journey—"comprised of a three-step process of identification, translation, and differentiation" (6)—but to shed light on how narratives of postmemory are as literarily innovative as they are socially representative, employing an array of techniques "to overcome the traumatic ruptures and temporal distance that separate the child of postmemory from her ancestral inheritance" (7). With such a dextrous model, Bellamy is able to illuminate the effect of postmemorial journeys on the formation of contemporary identities while simultaneously provoking a generative literary conversation elicited by traumas of the female body and the expressive techniques used to convey them. [End Page 769]

Each chapter seeks to explore elements of the contemporary genre of postmemory. Bellamy considers a range of texts by ethnic women that include not just African Americans but what she calls "hyphenated Americans" (14). While the first two chapters of the book analyze narratives of African American postmemory (particularly those of slavery) in novels by Jones, Butler, and Perry, the remaining three chapters provide examples by other ethnic American women that offer their own "particular challenges of geographical, cultural, and linguistic displacement": García's portrait of the Cuban Revolution, Keller's account of the Korean tradition of comfort women, and Danticat's story-cycle of Haitian traumatic history. Beginning with Jones, the book establishes a classic example of postmemory fiction in which "late-twentieth-century descendants of American slaves" must engage with "their traumatic inheritance" as a "process of excavating memories and experiences that have been consciously forgotten, distorted, or destroyed" (19). This is a process, Bellamy claims, that Jones recuperates through the use of "oral transmission to access the experiential history of slavery and explores how the physical body testifies to the enduring trauma of enslavement." But, she asks, "[w]hat if postmemory were experienced physically, affecting the inheritors of traumatic memory in their bodies as well as their minds and emotions?" (45). This is the question Bellamy asks with regard to Butler and Perry, and which she complicates in the third chapter in a discussion of embodiment in García's Dreaming in Cuban. In this novel, García "uses alternative forms of connection, specifically total recall and dreams, to create relational bridges between characters" that allow...

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