“The ongoing dilemmas of every human heart”
A review of
Quiet Americans: Stories.
By Erika Dreifus.
Review by Rebecca Henderson.
The real and lasting effects of war and genocide are more vividly portrayed in the personal stories of individual lives than in the timelines and statistics of history books. In Quiet Americans, her first book of fiction, Erika Dreifus explores the continuing impact of the Holocaust on survivors and their families, while delving into her characters’ relationships with both their loved ones and their aggressors. Quiet Americans is a book of historical detail combined with the intimacy and emotion of everyday happenings in the days, years, and decades after tragedy.
Past and future, death and birth, memories and hope, the themes of Dreifus’s stories engage the reader on a level that connects the extraordinary events of a devastating period of history to the ongoing dilemmas of every human heart. How do victims of atrocity, whose deep wounds may no longer throb but have turned to jagged scars, handle the humanity of their attackers? When given a choice of doing good or turning away from an enemy in time of need, how do they retain their own compassion, while not excusing the wicked done against them—especially when millions of others weren’t given that choice? How do they honor their family members who endured unspeakable suffering, never forgetting the past that shapes them, but finding ways to live in the present, to enjoy the closeness of loved ones in this moment, and to rebuild a “normal” life for future generations?