- Second-Generation Memory and Contemporary Children’s Literature by Anastasia Ulanowicz
As Anastasia Ulanowicz notes in her introduction to Second-Generation Memory and Contemporary Children’s Literature, for at least the past decade children’s literature scholars have paid considerable attention to the youth literature of atrocity, including works about the Holocaust for children and young adults. Ulanowicz cites a number of critics such as Hamida Bosmajian, Adrienne Kertzer, Kenneth Kidd, and Lydia Kokkola, who have all considered depictions of trauma and atrocity in works for children. Ulanowicz’s book makes a valuable contribution both to this body of children’s literature scholarship and to the fields of trauma and Holocaust studies, which have traditionally focused primarily on works for adults. In fact, the latter fields would benefit from an expanded approach that considers fully the importance of the kinds of texts discussed by Ulanowicz. Her book concentrates on depictions of what she calls “second-generation memory,” or the memories of traumatic events produced in subsequent generations that did not directly experience those events. To the extent that children’s literature is already imagined as a vehicle for the transmission of cultural memory to younger generations, Second-Generation Memory presents a particularly useful case for understanding the ways children are encouraged to internalize, re-interpret, and hence remember their family’s or community’s experience of past atrocity (6).
Ulanowicz offers original interpretations and deft close readings of a variety of works. In chapter 1, she shows how Lois Lowry’s The Giver points to the importance of second-generation memory for social change and how this memory requires both a critical capacity about and an intimacy with prior generations. Her analysis of The Giver’s ambiguous ending will be essential reading for scholars and students of the novel. Chapter 2 focuses on Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and makes a successful argument for the complexity of this realist novel and its adult representation of a child’s imaginative attempt to piece together and make sense of her family’s unimaginable experience of the Holocaust. In chapter 3, Ulanowicz turns her attention to Zlata Filipović’s Zlata’s Diary, a real account of a girl’s experience living in Sarajevo between 1991 and 1993 during the Bosnian conflict, which Ulanowicz reads against Anne Frank’s own famous diary in terms of how they construct a child’s perspective on war. Chapter 4 examines Marsha Forchuk Skrypuck’s The Hunger, a young adult problem novel [End Page 217] about a contemporary girl with an eating disorder who is transported to the site of the Armenian Genocide of the early twentieth century. Ulanowicz concludes with a chapter on Mordecai Gerstein’s picture book The Man Who Walked between the Towers and the construction of memory after September 11, 2001. Ulanowicz’s analysis of the correspondence between the 1974 setting of Gerstein’s book and the political context of its 2003 publication is incredibly astute. Throughout Second-Generation Memory, Ulanowicz moves breathlessly back and forth between such literary works and secondary references—for instance, from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to Zlata’s Diary, and from Roland Barthes’s study of photography to Judith Plotz’s reading of Charles Lamb, in one chapter—which some readers will applaud and others will find dizzying.
Ulanowicz’s book is subtitled Ghost Images, a phrase that offers another way to think about second-generation memory and invokes an expression from photography referring to the usually accidental superimposition of two images in one photo. The metaphor of the ghost image usefully points Ulanowicz toward the importance of illustration and visuality in children’s books, and several chapters include extended discussions of relevant images (or verbal descriptions of images) from the literary works being discussed, related films, or relevant cultural contexts. In the chapter on Blume, Ulanowicz pays special attention to the importance of the photograph of Sally’s cousin Lila, who dies in the Dachau concentration camp, and what its ambiguity suggests about Sally’s search to uncover the mysteries of...