The Let­ters That Nev­er Came

Mauri­cio Rosen­cof; Louise B. Pop­kin, trans.; Intro­duc­tion by Ilan Sta­vans
  • Review
By – August 15, 2012
In 1972 Mauri­cio Rosen­cof, a Uruguayan union orga­niz­er, writer and polit­i­cal activist, was cap­tured by the mil­i­tary author­i­ties and jailed for 13 years, 11 of them in a three-foot-by-six-foot cell. 

Tor­tured, iso­lat­ed and deprived of writ­ing mate­ri­als, Rosen­cof wrote in his head, begin­ning with the let­ters that nev­er came. Years ear­li­er, the postman’s vis­its to his family’s house in Mon­te­v­ideo had brought news from the rel­a­tives still in Poland. After 1936 no more let­ters came. From his own liv­ing death Rosen­cof writes these let­ters, cre­at­ing the numb­ing and increas­ing­ly hor­ri­fy­ing news from Treblinka. 

Rosen­cof — Moishe — had also been iso­lat­ed in his own fam­i­ly. After the death of his teen-aged old­er broth­er, Rosencof’s moth­er sel­dom spoke or smiled; the din­ner table was a place of silence. In prison Rosen­cof breaks open that silence, writ­ing to his father — Papa, Viejo—-to fill in all that was unsaid between them and to forge the links and the love that con­nect the Poland of his grand­par­ents — peo­ple who exist­ed only as pho­tographs — to him and his daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter, because wher­ev­er we are, we’re together.” 

Writ­ten in 2000 and only now trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, The Let­ters That Nev­er Came is described as an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el,” but it is a book that does not fit eas­i­ly into a cat­e­go­ry. An elo­quent med­i­ta­tion on suf­fer­ing and sur­vival, on the screams that don’t die,” it is a sear­ing indict­ment of any human being any­where who lifts a hand to bru­tal­ize anoth­er. Gloss., photo.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions