An Afterlife, the debut novel by Frances Bartkowski
The night after… the morning of September 11, 2001, I dreamed of European refugees fleeing with valises, looking behind, and moving forward, somewhere.
An Afterlife is the story of Ruby and Ilya, a couple I imagined from the time and generation before mine. They are Polish Jews who’ve survived a series of labor and death camps. They meet in the DP camp. There, they, like all the displaced, are trying to figure out, how to figure out, what life is.
After years of reading, writing, and teaching about the Shoah, I found the lens turned inward. In 2002 I visited my birthplace. I found copies of my birth certificate and my parents’ marriage certificate. I found the prison where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. I found a pictorial history of the town called A Place Like Every Other, but it was not.
Though this place was filled with histories, I had no stories. So, this is fiction, forged from the autobiography of place: Lansdberg, Germany, where I was born, and Passaic, New Jersey, where I grew up.
An Afterlife is a love story, one that summoned me from a past I could only imagine. The DP camps had only recently become material for historians or writers. While not all marriages made there were love stories, they were, however, stories of those who meet and then wait… for where their lives will begin… again. The DP camps were a limbo, a bardo, where kinship was chosen, for the kin from before were gone, annihilated, unburied.