The Postcard by Anne Berest

In 2003, Anne Berest’s mother received a postcard listing her grandparents and aunt and uncles names who were all killed at Auschwitz. There was nothing else on the card and so it is this mystery that sets up the frame for the story. Who sent it and why?

What is then revealed is the story of Berest’s ancestors, first her grandparents, Ephraim and Emma and then in the second half of the book Myriam, the survivor of that time. And it also sets up what it means to be a secular Jew in modern-day France, particularly relevant today. ‘An old story, which is a very new story.’

The book shows how the tentacles of trauma from the holocaust stretch down the generations and into the future, how it can never be laid to rest and must always be remembered. The book is part historical novel and part detective as memories and documents of the family are tracked down.

There are many difficult moments in the book but imagine being invited into a house, pretending that you a researcher looking for pictures from the 1930s, only to be handed your own family photographs and to see your family piano standing in the corner of the lounge. These things are still alive and living in French houses up and down the country.

At the end the sender of the postcard is identified and Berest has a much clearer idea of her ancestry and herself.

I can’t forget them. If I do, there will be no one left to remember that they ever existed.


It is a very well-written and translated book that drops surprise, hurt, anguish and desperation into the family’s life and ours as readers. It is a powerful exploration of family trauma or ‘cellular memory’, exploring what it means to be a witness generations later. This is all supported by the use of emails and official documents interspersed with the narrative. I was particularly moved by the emails between Anne and her sister about having the same traits as their mother and aunt whose names they had as their middle name.


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