The Conversations We Never Had by Jeffrey Konis
Konis’s story, The Conversations We Never Had, is a combination of memoir and fiction. He uses events and characters from his real life, particularly his Grandma Ola and his family’s history, to populate this interesting fiction-biography hybrid. Konis introduces the story by describing his late grandmother, who isn’t even actually his grandmother. Instead, Grandma Ola is his grandmother’s younger sister, who raised Konis’s father after World War II. Nonetheless, Ola and her husband, Grandpa Bonya, are the only grandparents Konis has known. It is not until Ola’s death that Konis realizes all he has lost. Not only has he lost his grandmother, but he has also lost all of the stories that she knew. His realization of this loss prompts this fictional memoir, bookended and intertwined with historical reality, both the reality of Konis’s family as well as the reality of World War II and the Holocaust.
As a law student, Konis lived with his grandmother after the death of his grandfather, both to keep an eye on her, as well as for the convenience of living near his university. It is here that Konis takes liberties, as he invents or embellishes conversations between Ola and his younger self. Konis admits later in the text that though he did spend time with Grandma Ola, he never questioned her about her past or her experiences during the war. It is in these fictional excursions that Konis’s storytelling shines, as the stories Ola tells are interesting on their own. She tells a richly detailed story, for example, of being punished by her stern but loving father for something she did not do. However, the narrative structure Konis uses to explore these stories fall short. Rather than allowing Ola’s story to develop naturally, Konis adopts an artificial, strained question and answer format, in which both Konis and Ola fall victim to the tendency to moralize or make elaborate connections between Ola’s story and great works of literature, which serve only to distance the reader from the overall narrative. This distance is reflected in Konis’s often stilted language and greatly contrasts with Ola’s fictional voice, which is warm and natural, and makes the reader wish she narrated the story as a whole.
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