The Letters That Never Came
Mauricio Rosencof spent thirteen years as a political prisoner in his native Uruguay. Eleven of those years he was in solitary confinement in a three-by-six cell with only spiders to keep him company and the image of his neighborhood postman to keep him sane. The postman and the letters he brings—and doesn’t bring—become the metaphor linking his parents’ disconnect from their family back in Hitler’s Poland and his own estrangement from them.
The body of the novel is a pair of stream-of-consciousness monologues. First, the author as a young boy, “Moishe,” takes us on a breathless tour of his family and neighborhood to introduce the characters of his story: his idolized older brother, Leon, the only one who can bridge the language gap between their parents’ Yiddish and Moishe’s Spanish; his distant father who sews all day and writes letters at night; his mother who only speaks in questions (“How comes you’re not eating?” “Who does that?” “Come here, will you?”). Moishe’s story is interspersed with imagined letters from the Polish relatives in the Lublin Ghetto, then Treblinka and Auschwitz.
The bulk of the novel is Mauricio from his dungeon, composing a letter to his father in his head, as his captors allowed him neither pencil nor paper. The narrative spirals through past, present and future events, linking, as Ilan Stavans writes in the introduction, “five generations of Rosencofs, the Old World to the New, the plight of a Uruguayan to that of Hitler’s victims, and his own struggle to theirs.” The Letters That Never Came is Rosencof’s manifesto against silence, particularly the silence that muffles the cries of the innocent.