The Butcher's Daughter

A Memoir

Non-Fiction - Memoir
232 Pages
Reviewed on 12/05/2016
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Florence Grende was born in American Occupied Germany to Holocaust survivor parents and grew up in the Bronx. As a young woman, she earned a Master of Social Work degree, and later, at age sixty, a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She hardly considers herself a late bloomer having pursued careers first as a therapist, then an AT&T union worker and a mixed-media artist.

She holds an MFA from the Stonecoast writing program at the University of Southern Maine. Her stories and poems have appeared in "Litro Magazine," "Babel Fruit," "Poetica,""The Sun," "The Berkshire Review," "The Women's Times," and in the anthologies "Robot Hearts: True and Twisted Tales of Seeking Love in the Digital Age," and "The Widow's Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival."

“The Butcher’s Daughter: A Memoir” is her first book.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite

Some people call it ‘survivor’s guilt’, that violent sense of abandonment from reality, that robot-like functioning in a world that carries on, the survivor forever feeling guilty for having survived when all around him or her have died, have been sacrificed. The generation that followed the Second World War is full of stories of children abused by parents who suffered, in one way or another, the tragedies of such a horrific war. Jewish children, born of parents who survived the Holocaust, were brought up in a home full of ghosts and guilt, a melancholy full of fear and anger. While the world recalls in horror the events of the Holocaust itself, the world also overlooks the aftermath, the victims of the victims, the children of the survivors.

Florence Grende’s heartrending account of her Jewish upbringing, a child of Holocaust survivors, weaves a story of pain and sorrow, fear and anger, and the hidden melancholy (the Dee Melchome), the depression that makes monsters out of otherwise ordinary people. The Butcher’s Daughter is a memoir that speaks for those too traumatized to voice their stories: the survivors and their children. The story is unveiled in patches, fragments of a fragmented childhood and an uncertain survival even in the land of plenty and opportunity, America. And the symbolism of the torn black ribbons worn at Tateh’s funeral, the story, which at first appears fragmented, becomes a testament of the sorrows of not just one generation, but two: the Holocaust survivors and their children.

And through it all, the ever-uttered words, “Ess. Ess.” (Eat. Eat.) Survivors who have faced starvation enforce the importance of eating – and eating lots – on those they love. It’s a means to protect those remaining loved ones. The author claims that she “grew up among the dead”, and, in many ways she did. In between the lines of her story unravels the story of her parents; Tateh, who was a Guerrilla in the Polish woods, fighting back and providing food for the starving Jews hiding in the woods, and Mameh, who, as a young girl, survived the harsh Polish climates by hiding in a dugout in the woods. Tateh and Mameh lost family in the Holocaust, but they survived. They married after the war, but they never seemed happy or content with each other.

Food, the ever present need of nourishment, something that was sorely missing while surviving in the woods, reappears frequently in the story. Food is the sustenance that binds body, mind, soul and the unity of friends and family. In her mother’s notebook, the author finds incomplete recipes, which reminds her of “the spaces within and between us. Only the basic amenities moved our brief conversations – stock greetings, inquiries into health, family news: never a topic that might carry the weight of emotion, the hint of vulnerability, or the gift of the personal.”

This story is much more than just a memoir. It’s a testament: a statement of a life shattered because of a brutal war. Hitler’s evil affected more than just those who lived through it. His evil stretched into the next generation, not just amongst the Jews, but also amongst the children and the grandchildren of high ranking Nazis. A powerful story told with compassion. A must-read.

Florence Grende

I'm happy to add this thoughtful review from Diane Donovan, senior editor, Midwest Review:
The Butcher's Daughter: A Memoir is not a story of meat-cutting, but of survival on its most basic level - and of the impact of that survival on family members generations later.

Florence Grende's parents survived the Nazi invasion in the Polish woods. She grew up in a house filled with ghosts. Images of martyred relatives haunted their lives: "In my home, framed photos of dead relatives stared out from our walls. Images of the martyred many spilled over from albums and shoeboxes, apparitions rising into the ether like ghosts. I was raised with them, the slain, the lost."

Grende brings readers into this world, which opens on an immigrant ship where a child clutching a doll knows that America - and hope - lies only an ocean away. She introduces her audience to a broken world where hopes for the future are in stark and sharp contrast to a too-immediate past filled with death and struggle, and emphasizes this immediacy using stinging, biting language that fully captures despair: "I haven't discovered yet that Mameh wonders why she's still alive, still gets up each morning tasting bitterness, choking on air, while the men in her family, her brother, father, uncle are all dead. I haven't discovered yet that Mameh views her own womanhood as less than: less than men, less than intelligent, less than worthy."

But hers is also a magical place of family members healing from the anguish of their past, brought to life in passages that simultaneously affirm life and death and the importance of these connections: "Carrots, fried onions, raw eggs, pike, and carp form a milky mixture. My grandmother's kerchief covered head bends low over the wooden bowl as she chops, shapes dumplings, then, with thick fingers, drops gefilte fish into boiling water. Opening her prayer book she faces east, whispers familiar words while the big pot bubbles, steam rising, then disappearing into air. The day before, the carp swam lazy circles in our tub, its mouth a slow series of o's. Bubbe grasps the chicken by its yellow legs, holds on tight, swings it high over my head three times, reciting a blessing with each revolution. I watch its flurry of feathers spread wide, the snow white of wing. I am eight or nine, awestruck that this wild creature, appearing like an angel, is in our apartment."

Many family memoirs and memoirs of survival and struggle fall short of depicting the very nuances they seek to bring to life; but this isn't so in The Butcher's Daughter. Florence Grende's ability to lift the moments, impressions, thoughts, and passions from experience and capture them in their crystalline seconds of agony and ecstasy elevates her story above and beyond similar-sounding accounts, creating an singularly striking piece that doesn't have to hammer home its message, because every whisper is a powerhouse of passion.

"Here's how I feel it still ..." is a phrase replete in every chapter and throughout her story, running swiftly and slowly like a river of emotion that turns into a stream, then rages.

Florence Grende is a witness, safekeeping memories and dreams for herself, her family, and future generations. Come along with her on a journey that winds from a family's struggles not just to survive, but with survival's aftermath. It's a journey centered in ancient customs and rituals and modern translations and dilemmas and, under her hand, is one which evolves from being nobody's business to being everyone's business, reaching deep into closely-held memories to pluck out the gems of wisdom that keep life meaningful.