cover image Requiem Letters

Requiem Letters

Ronald Senator. Marion Boyars Publishers, $30 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7145-2999-8

Senator, an English composer whose works include the Pulitzer-nominated oratorio Holocaust Requiem and the musical Trotsky in New York (with Anthony Burgess), was hospitalized in 1950 as ``psychotic.'' He underwent electroshock and a prefrontal lobotomy, a dangerous, unnecessary brain operation popular in the 1940s and '50s that left many of its victims human vegetables. His recovery, which took many years, was facilitated by his experience living in CHOFA (``chosen family''), a therapy-oriented countercultural community where, in 1960, he met his Czech-born future wife, Dita. Her traumas were far more terrible: an Auschwitz survivor, she lost her whole family except her father in the Holocaust. Senator, whose own father's family perished in concentration camps and in the Warsaw and Lodz ghettos, casts this deeply moving and haunting autobiographical memoir as an exchange of letters between himself and his wife, who died of cancer in 1981. The reader eavesdrops on an intimate communion between two souls who helped each other heal. (Mar.)