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The Eulogizer: Writer Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, 71, writer

Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, the author of 14 novels, poems, short story collections and more, died Aug. 26 at 71 in Chicago.

Fromberg Schaeffer’s stories offered “complex characters in the grip of extreme psychological stress and physical suffering.” Her most acclaimed works included “The Madness of a Seduced Woman";  “Anya,” about a Holocaust survivor from Poland; and the poetry collection “Granite Lady,” a National Book Award finalist.

Her 1989 novel "Buffalo Afternoon" was described as “the definitive novel about the Vietnam War and its long and complex echo throughout American life.” The book surprised critics, as it was written by a woman who had no military background or experience, but Fromberg Schaeffer researched the novel by talking to veterans at great length.

“She was an excellent listener,” said her husband, the scholar Neil Schaeffer, “so they told her what was true.”

Her first novel, “Falling,” was a semiautobiographical look at “middle-class Jewish life in Brooklyn, psychoanalysis, the struggle for self-discovery and fulfillment.”

An appreciation of her work in Commentary said Fromberg Schaeffer deserved to be remembered for the diversity of her work.

“Perhaps best known for ‘Anya’, her 1974 Holocaust novel, Fromberg Schaeffer ought to be better known for … her refusal to plow the same postage stamp of earth over and over again." The Commentary appreciation also said that "She wrote about the rural culture of 19th-century New England, Russian Jewish immigrants to the U.S., a woman who murdered her romantic rival, the Vietnam War, Greta Garbo and her West Indian housekeeper, (and) a lecherous poet who drives two of his wives to suicide.”

Commentary’s D.G. Myers wrote that “Anya” was one of the first fictional treatments of the Holocaust to find a popular audience. Fromberg Schaeffer’s advantage was the very distance from Jewish tradition that she was so honest in acknowledging."

Myers cited a previous Commentary review which said that her “universalist perspective” gave Fromberg Schaeffer “the resources to illuminate a neglected and troubling aspect of the Holocaust: the fact that vast numbers of Jews, many more than we like to think in our idealizations of the 6 million, faced the extermination camps with little idea of why they were there and even less of the role they were being forced to play in a millennial Jewish drama.”

Susan Fromberg was born in Brooklyn, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a doctorate in literature from the University of Chicago. She taught at Brooklyn College and Chicago.

Poet Edward Byrne recalled “the care she displayed toward her students, the warmth she showed toward me as a novice writer, the particular consideration she gave my work, her thoughtfulness expressed in her actions on my behalf, the friendliness exhibited in those long-ago conversations, and again I am thankful.”

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