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Journal Article

A Kaddish for the Father: Régine Robin and the “impossible work of mourning”

Kathleen Kellett
Studies in American Jewish Literature (1981-)
Vol. 35, No. 2, Studies in American Jewish Literature (2016), pp. 200-215
DOI: 10.5325/studamerjewilite.35.2.0200
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Page Count: 16

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Topics: Fathers, Narrators, Narratives, Parents, Holocaust, Mothers, Daughters, Communism, Concentration camps, Literature
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A Kaddish for the Father: Régine Robin and the “impossible work of mourning”
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This essay examines the father-daughter relationship and the dynamics of mourning in the biofiction of Quebec author Régine Robin, born Rivka Ajzersztejn in 1939 in Paris. Focusing on her first work of biofiction, Le Cheval blanc de Lénine (1979), as well as the short text “Manhattan Bistro” (1992), I argue that Robin presents the daughter’s tale as both an act of defiance against paternal authority and her Communist father’s veneration of the great men of history—incarnate in the vision of Vladimir Lenin on a white horse—and homage to her father’s role as inventive and passionate chronicler of family history. The daughter recounts her father’s struggle with the refusal to say the Kaddish for his own father, an impossible act of mourning mirrored by the Kaddish that could not be recited for the fifty-one members of her family lost in the Holocaust. Robin’s biofiction is an unceasing iteration of the grieving process, an examination of the vagaries of memory and history, and the arbitrary accidents in time that led to deportation to the Nazi death camps for some and survival and a future life in North America and elsewhere for others.

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