In tracing the roots of this family--his own family--Laskin captures the epic sweep of the twentieth century. Read more...
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In tracing the roots of this family--his own family--Laskin captures the epic sweep of the twentieth century. A modern-day scribe, Laskin honors the traditions, the lives, and the choices of his ancestors: revolutionaries and entrepreneurs, scholars and farmers, tycoons and truck drivers. "The Family" is a deeply personal, dramatic, and emotional account of people caught in a cataclysmic time in world history.
A century and a half ago, a Torah scribe and his wife raised six children in a yeshivatown at the western fringe of the Russian empire. Bound by their customs and ancient faith, the pious couple expected their sons and daughter to carry family traditions into future generations. But the social and political crises of our time decreed otherwise.
The torrent of history took the scribe's family down three very different roads. One branch immigrated to America and founded the fabulously successful Maidenform Bra Company; another went to Palestine as pioneers and participated in the contentious birth of the state of Israel; the third branch remained in Europe and suffered the onslaught of the Nazi occupation.
With cinematic power and beauty, bestselling author David Laskin brings to life the upheavals of the twentieth century through the story of one family, three continents, two world wars, and the rise and fall of nations.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-07-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Frequent newspaper contributor Laskin’s relatives provide ample material for a gripping epic narrative, beginning in 1875 and spanning over a century. This readable and absorbing book looks at the experiences of Jews—in this case all members of Laskin’s family—finding a fresh start in the United States, of those working to form a new country in Palestine, and of those trapped in Nazi-controlled Europe. His American ancestors’ experiences were highlighted by his great-aunt, Itel, who founded the Maidenform Bra Company in 1922. And that quintessential American success story of a hard-working immigrant who makes good contrasts well with the account of her cousin Chaim’s life in Palestine around the same time—he found disillusionment there, rather than a land of milk and honey. The sections dealing with the grim toll that the Holocaust took on the family don’t provide new insights into the Nazis’ inhumanity; the horrors of the time gain more impact when conveyed through the stories of individual lives. Laskin (The Children’s Blizzard) makes the most of the rich array of stories his research unearthed. Agent: Jill Kneerim, Kneerim, Williams, and Bloom Literary Agency. (Oct.)
A family defined by the 20th century
David Laskin’s family experienced the most important events of the 20th century: the Russian Revolution; World War I; the Great Depression; the Holocaust; World War II. But this Zelig-like existence was unknown to Laskin for years, as he grew up in a bucolic suburb of New York City, graduated from Harvard and went on to become an accomplished author. It wasn’t until he began to probe the history of his family that he discovered its remarkable background. These discoveries became the basis for his fascinating new book, The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century.
Early on in The Family, Laskin establishes the premise with this simple, elegant sentence: “History made and broke my family in the twentieth century.” Consider what three separate branches of his mother’s family experienced: One branch emigrated from Russia to the U.S. and went on to build a fortune by creating the Maidenform brassiere. Another branch found its way to the Middle East, where it was part of the establishment of Israel. The third branch remained in Europe and suffered through two world wars and the Holocaust.
Laskin is honest about his place of privilege and how he once ignored his Judaism and his family history: “I forgot the Hebrew that had been drummed into me. I belonged to Greenwich Village, London, Paris, Rome, maybe James Joyce’s Dublin—certainly not to Jerusalem, Vilna, Minsk.” But on a whim he started corresponding with distant relatives and began to learn about the astounding evolution of his family. The success that the American branch experienced in creating the Maidenform bra is poignantly contrasted with the struggles of the Israeli branch in helping to establish a new country. But even more gripping is the pain felt by family members who remained in Russia, enduring the horrors of both Hitler’s Final Solution and Stalin’s purges.
The Family is a thoroughly researched, deftly written book that will help readers appreciate the struggles and successes of Jews as they sought safe harbors and places to call home during the 20th-century diaspora. It is a journey worth taking to see an educated and talented author come to appreciate how his ancestors helped him to find his home in the 21st century.