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Reviewed by:
  • Haunted Narratives: Life Writing in an Age of Trauma by Gabriele Rippl et al.
  • Nathalie Segeral (bio)
Gabriele Rippl, Philipp Schweighauser, Tiina Kirss, Margit Sutrop, and Therese Steffen. Haunted Narratives: Life Writing in an Age of Trauma. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2013. 352pp. ISBN 978-1442646012, $65.00.

Haunted Narratives: Life Writing in an Age of Trauma breaks new ground in trauma studies, in its transnational, transcultural, and trans-linguistic study of life writing dealing with an extremely large array of traumas. Building on the American Psychiatric Association’s 1980 Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-III) definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (commonly abbreviated as PTSD), the volume authors refer to trauma as an event that “cannot be integrated into one’s memory and for that reason threatens or shatters the construction of a vigorous and self-sufficient self-image,” and since trauma challenges verbalization and narration, it “often registers as gaps in the narrative structures of autobiographical memory” (9). Thus, [End Page 817] grounding their study in works by trauma theorists Cathy Caruth and Elizabeth A. Kaplan, the authors focus on the connection of trauma and memory to storytelling, with the desire to make a contribution to the field of trauma studies by helping the reader become acquainted with lesser-known trauma narratives in the English-speaking world.

This volume has the great merit of opening new lines of communication between the past, the present, and the future. It touches on a large diversity of nations, from Europe (Nazi Germany, the Baltic States, Scotland . . .) to India, and on various traumas as well (Stalinist Terror, colonial and post-colonial oppression, communalism and Hindu nationalism, the Holocaust . . .). The first part, entitled “Life Writing and Trauma: Theorizing the Vicissitudes of Representing Violence,” includes essays on ghosts in literary texts (by Tiina Kirss) and on trauma and utopia (by Philipp Schweighauser); the second part, entitled “Auto/biographies as Trauma Narratives,” has essays on life writing as therapy (Julia Straub), childhood and lack (Maarja Hollo), silence in a German narrative (Nora Anna Escherle), the unsayable and the unsaid (Eneken Laanes), voicing trauma in the deportation narratives of Baltic women (Leena Kurvet-Käosaar), and on trauma narratives and national identity (Annie Cottier). The third part deals with “Limit-cases: Exploring the limits of telling pain,” and includes essays on history and national identity in Scottish drama post-1945 (Stefanie Preuss), aspects of post-imperial constructions of nationhood (Eva Rein), anecdotalization of memory in Jaan Kross’s Paigallend (Eneken Laanes), negating grand narratives (Nora Anna Escherle), fighting fear with writing (Aija Sakova), the stigma of the autobiographical (Julia Straub), the search for the lost parent in works by Joy Kogawa and Ene Mihkelson (Eva Rein), and a critical discussion of trauma transmission and identity formation (Stefanie Preuss). The fourth and last part, entitled “Fictions of Loss and Trauma,” discusses childhood trauma and self-narration in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, as well as exile, memory, and nostalgia (Christa Schönfelder), grasping patterns of violence (Aija Sakova), nostalgia and redemption in Bernard Kangro’s Joonatan novels (Maarja Hollo), life writing in Raj Kamal Jha’s Fireproof (Annie Cottier), and what only fiction can do (Leena Kurvet-Käosaar).

To my knowledge, no other edited volume on trauma and life writing has ever been published with such a broad transnational and transcultural scope, thus fostering productive lines of comparison and discussion between such distant places as India and the Baltic states, and thereby giving rise to a common discourse on trauma and biography through a study of the circulation of tropes and literary devices among all the narratives included here. By also including a gender perspective (as in Leena Kurvet-Käosaar’s essay on deportation narratives by Baltic women, among others), this study does not dismiss [End Page 818] the gender-specific experience of trauma currently emerging in Holocaust studies. It is, however, a little surprising that the authors of this volume do not engage with the most recent theories of trauma and memory, such as Michael Rothberg’s notion of multidirectional memory and Marianne Hirsch and Nancy K. Miller’s recent edited volume, Rites of Return: Diaspora Poetics...


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