A Story About Telling a Holocaust Story
ISBN 978-1-947980-01-3 210 pages $18.00
The entire Interview with Beth Benedix
by Deborah Kalb
In this haunting and stunning book, Benedix tells us Joe’s story. Somehow, she tells us a story that doesn’t necessarily want to be told. Somehow, she manages to tell Joe’s bold and painful story while her own story simultaneously sneaks in. With breathtaking grace, Benedix navigates the wild, wandering shapes that such stories can take on. And because she invites her readers in so graciously, we are not merely on-lookers or voyeurs. Benedix offers us the chance to become active agents in the storytelling. She allows us to become empathy detectives. And so Benedix tells us Joe’s story, and her story, and even our own.
Sarah Gerkensmeyer, Author of what you are now enjoying, winner of the Autumn House Fiction Prize, Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer, and the Indiana Authors Award
Some writers know that every life story takes form within the constraints of genre, the expectations of readers, the stubborn reality of their subject, and the stubborn integrity of the author herself driven to convey a fullest possible truth. Within the arena of books about Holocaust survivors, only a very few authors have had the knowledge, talent, and commitment to describe that quest in detail. In this vitally important book, Beth Benedix shows herself to be one of those very few. Beautifully conveyed, informed and informing, Benedix shows us what it means to listen to a Holocaust survivor—and to listen to our own listening—with unflinching integrity, candor, and care. This book asks the right questions and--almost unique in writing about survivors--it grounds those questions within the complexity of a full relationship. Benedix cherishes that complexity because she knows it is the real, irreducible thing.
Hank Greenspan, author of On Listening to Holocaust Survivors, Reflections: Auschwitz, Memory and a Life and the acclaimed play, "Remnants."
Beth Benedix’s Ghost Writer is a deeply layered narrative which, from its first pages, tears into the artful, sometimes disorderly fashion in which story comes together for an author and the man who is her subject. Asked by the family of Joe Koenig, a 90-year-old concentration camp survivor to help collect his stories into a memoir, Benedix completes that fraught and painful enterprise by challenging herself to examine her own past—woman, daughter, mother, teacher, reader. She quickly forges bonds with the unapologetically cantankerous, and unerringly wise, Joe. Thus we are propelled on a journey across the landscape of two emergent stories: one Benedix draws out of Joe, and one he illuminates in her heart and intellect. Cranky, loving, boldly unafraid of his own, deeply earned grudges with the past, Joe is above all a smart man, a teacher, a witness. His compelling lessons are beautifully unsprung by Benedix, who comes to elegantly detail the story of her own passage through pain and memory, literature and philosophy, father, family and dark quirks of the past. Where all this goes, and where it ends, is testament to the freaky, surprising power of a story consciously told, by two brave and full hearts.
Ghost Writer is a powerful, gripping story about storytelling itself; it's about the risks involved in trying to tell stories which themselves are dangerous and full of perils. Rather than tread on familiar ground sometimes seen in Holocaust narratives, Beth Benedix offers a rare, intimate glimpse into the torturous task of telling a harrowing story, using a narrative voice which is simultaneously humble and intense, calm and breathless. Ghost Writer is about how to make life whole when things seem to be falling apart, about how the very act of telling stories can sometimes save us.
David Harris-Gershon, What do you Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill your Wife?
“There comes a time,” Holocaust survivor Joe Koenig told Beth Benedix, “when you have to tell your story.” A remarkable contribution to Holocaust studies, Ghost Writer not only voices Koenig’s insightful testimony. It also dives deeply into the profound challenges—literary, philosophical, personal—that Benedix confronted in deciding how to tell a story that “swelled beyond its own boundaries.” Watching the Koenig–Benedix relationship unfold in the pages of this poignant book is like reading a novel that brims with truth or seeing an unforgettable film. Probing, searching, yearning—Ghost Writer ranks with the very best writing about the Holocaust and its reverberations.
John K. Roth, Edward J. Sexton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Claremont McKenna College
"Knowing Joe has changed the way I’ve thought about… well… everything, from writing to teaching to being a mom. Everything feels more applied now, more hands-on, more in-the-thick-of-it. There’s a clarity that wasn’t there before, a sense of what really matters. I talk about the Jewish concept of beshert—fate. Allergic as I am to any form of institutionalized religion, this concept—that there are others with whom we are fated to cross paths—resonates with me in a way that I always sort of sensed but was never quite able to articulate until writing this book.
"My biggest inspirations in memoir—Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and David Harris-Gershon (What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?)—are painstakingly, playfully, process-driven, and the authenticity of this approach came as a revelation to me the first time I read their books.
"There’s a vulnerability to this approach that feels necessary to me, a tentative quality that conveys the reality of what it feels like to just not know how best to communicate the weight of Joe’s story.
Beth Benedix is a Professor of World Literature, Religious Studies, and Community Engagement at DePauw University. She is the author of Reluctant Theologians: Franz Kafka, Paul Celan, Edmond Jabès (Fordham University Press, 2003), editor of and contributor to Subverting Scriptures: Critical Reflections on the Use of the Bible (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), and a contributor of chapters, articles, introductions and reviews to a variety of collections and journals. She is Founder and Director of The Castle (www.castlearts.org), a non-profit organization that provides integrated-arts and project-based workshops in Putnam County, Indiana, public schools. Beth lives in Greencastle, IN with her husband and two sons.