Afterlight: In Search of Poet­ry, His­to­ry, and Home

Isa Mil­man

January 13, 2021

A haunt­ing mem­oir of war, geno­cide, dis­place­ment, and a daughter’s search for the lit­er­ary works of her mother’s mur­dered twin.

Griev­ing the death of her moth­er in 2013, author Isa Mil­man embarked on a heart-wrench­ing jour­ney to unrav­el a fam­i­ly mys­tery — the where­abouts of her aunt’s long-lost poems, pub­lished in Poland in the ear­ly 1930s — which evolved into a broad­er inves­ti­ga­tion of her family’s life before, dur­ing, and after the Holo­caust. This pow­er­ful mem­oir chron­i­cles a less­er-known chap­ter of the Sec­ond World War through the sto­ry of two sis­ters: Sabi­na, Isa’s moth­er, who sur­vived the war, and Basia, Sabina’s twin, who did not.

Explor­ing themes of loss and dis­place­ment, regen­er­a­tion and resilience, Isa dis­cov­ers how her own sto­ry is woven into the immense yet intri­cate tapes­try of the Jew­ish expe­ri­ence. As she delves into her family’s his­to­ry, accom­pa­nied by her hus­band, a native British Columbian, she trav­els to con­tem­po­rary Poland, Ukraine, and Ger­many, and tries to rec­on­cile her shift­ing appre­ci­a­tion of peo­ple and place, in a world where anti-Semi­tism and oth­er forms of extrem­ism are on the rise once again.

Discussion Questions

Afterlight is a vivid and haunt­ing mem­oir by Cana­di­an poet Isa Mil­man. She depicts in riv­et­ing detail the his­to­ry of her family’s dis­place­ment by war and geno­cide, and her search for the lost pub­lished poet­ry of her mother’s mur­dered twin sis­ter. Mil­man recounts her own ambiva­lence about trav­el­ing through Poland and Ukraine to inves­ti­gate the dev­as­tat­ing sites of her family’s fate.

Filled with his­tor­i­cal, cur­rent, and per­son­al details, Afterlight is an aching, lyri­cal mem­oir of Milman’s efforts to unpack a life of liv­ing with the after­math of the Holocaust.