The Conversations We Never Had encompasses the challenges of memory, family, and legacy. A record of the author’s conversations with his grandmother Ola, a Holocaust survivor, in the last few years of her life, Konis presents the delicacy of opening up questions to worlds and experiences, and how uncovering these stories brings ever more questions than answers. The result is bittersweet – the sense of a deepening relationship, a joy in understanding, a relief in forgiveness – and the knowledge that there will always be conversations that haven’t been had, stories that haven’t been told. The Conversations We Never Had showcases the risks and gifts of opening up in a family where the promise of closure is inevitably false.
Since it is written as a series of conversations, Konis maintains the tone of storytelling throughout the book. The almost accidental way in which these conversations began allows some lightness in a way that more planned interviews sometimes lack. This is not a methodical, orderly “History” writ large, but a splendidly messier collection. While Konis’ conversations with Ola follow a chronological arc, they naturally follow tangents, ebb and flow with the comfort of the participants, compounding the realism of the stories. Konis allows himself moments of humor and disbelief, giving readers permission to wonder at the truth, completeness, and motivations of both Konis and Ola in what they share.
Readers with family roots in pre-Holocaust Europe will undoubtedly find a great deal to relate to, and may be inspired to dig deeper into their own stories. A familiarity with the historical context will certainly be helpful to all readers. Readers who are mourning the recent loss of a loved one or who have experienced trauma related to their family’s shared Holocaust stories should carefully consider if this book will not be too triggering.