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BOOKS & THE CULTURE She Writes Like an Ange BY DIANA ANHALT The Angel of Memory By Marjorie Agosin Translated by Brigid A. Milligan and Laura Rocket Nakazawa Wings Press 216 pages, $17.95. arjorie Agosinwriter, editor, human rights activist, and professor believes in ghosts. She also believes dreams are the place where the living meet their dead and where recollection is born. Part poetry, part prose, The Angel of Memory is an astonishing work and the author’s attempt to resurrect the memory of Helena Broder, her great-grandmother, who fled Vienna during World War II and died in Chile when the author was eight years old. \(In the Kabbalah, an “angel of memoIn The Angel of Memory, Agosin blends visions and recallher own and others’into a harmonious whole. She speaks to us of women in hats, cousins herded onto trains, and of Helena Broder’s son, forced to crawl through Vienna’s streets scrubbing cobblestones. Her work is permeated with the musty scent of old photographs and lilacs. \(I can visualize Marjorie dreaming of herself as a small blond child in a white nightgown, seated on a red satin quilt at the edge of her greatall the days of my deliriously happy childhood I remember that day of death sealed in a great silence,” she writes, referring to her great-grandmother’s death. “They closed the shutters of the balcony, and all the birds flew away. They covered all the mirrors, and your dresser remained untouched with your hair still on your brushes.” Although Agosin was born in the United States and has resided in this country for more than 30 years, she spent her early childhood in Chile and writes exclusively in .Spanish: “The English language never took on the texture of my soul, the feel of my skin,” she confessed in an earlier book, The Alphabet in My Hands: A Writer’s Life vision, part fact, her work is routinely translated into English and published in the United States for English-speaking audiences. It appears here in the original, accompanied by a translation. Much as her work crosses the language barrier, Agosin crosses from poetry to prose and back again as if there were nothing separating the two. From the point of view of this JewishChilean-American poet, separations are meant to be bridged. She has devoted her life and her work to eradicating the spaces between words like “Jewish,” “Chilean,” and “American”; between religions, ethnicity, and gender. Her ability to communicate across barriers and cross back and forth from one identity to another gives new meaning to the word “intercultural,” acknowledges the dignity of mankind, and signals the establishment of a multicultural trend in contemporary U.S. literature. Concerned with the problems besetting minorities, the condition of exile, and the consequences of poverty and persecution, Agosin has come close to having inspired a one-woman literary movement. She is the recipient of numerous international prizes for the role she has played in promoting human rights. The course of Agosin’s life is determined, to a great extent, by what she chooses or, as she might put itis chosento write. She expresses it this way: “Poetry is a story that attaches itself to my feet, my being.” \(The Alphabet in My Thus, prior to writing The Angel of Memory, she followed her feet to Vienna and Prague believing, perhaps, that if the memories refused to visit her at home she would find them at their source. Her mother was her guide, and wherever they went, Agosin picked up traces of her great-grandmother, of dead cousins and aunts. They visited her in dreams, cemeteries, and on bridges. Then she wrote about them: “Now I do not ask myself why I have come to Vienna. I am absolutely certain that it is to honor the dead, all the dead: gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, Jews, my aunts whom I never met…” Her poems are like prayers and, sometimes, love letters, and in mourning her dead she mourns all victims: Julia, Sonia, Silvia, you shall not die tangled in barbed wire. you will no longer be hidden Jews without hair, without a voice… …I ask for a second, for a century of peace and memory for every single one: the dead Jews, the gypsies, the women of Bosnia. They are all named Julia, Sylvia, Sonia And they are all mine. 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7/19/02