Traces the history of the 20th century through the story of an extraordinary Jewish family, recounting how the author's 19th-century ancestors were separated by period upheavals in western Russia and went on to become the founders of the Maidenform Bra Company, pioneers in the contentious birth of Israel, and victims of the Holocaust.
Laskin's account of the Cohen family and its descendants from before the Great War to Israel (and New Jersey/Long Island/Hoboken/Manhattan) is remarkable, not only because it is very well written, but also because it includes almost all types of
I do not read much about the Jewish experience, so Laskin's account made me understand some puzzling things better, like why didn't more Jews run away from the Germans, and how can someone not be religious but want to become a pioneer/settler/terrorist (depending on whose point of view you take) in a land that has been "promised" to the members of a religion (I am not Jewish, so this idea of a "nation" and so on is difficult to understand... apparently...)
My main worry when starting to read this book was that it would be too pro-Israel for my taste. I don't really mind if people are pro-Israel, but I do not need to read a long book of propaganda, I thought. But I worried for no reason, it turned out. Laskin was very honest, fair, and critical in his writing about historical events. I want to say that he did not spare anyone's feelings, and he did not favor anyone, either. He achieved this mostly by focusing on the human experience; how did the settlers feel, how did the Arabs and Bedouins feel, what did they think was happening... Overall, I agreed with Laskin's take on the Israel/Palestine conflict, but for those who are more pro-Israel, some of his opinions might not be agreeable. [At one point, he does split hairs about "who started it," which I slightly disagree with, and it all depends on what you consider "starting it" means and entails...] It is rather funny that Laskin identifies as a "secular Jew" who is not religious at all (like the Upper West Side Jews in New York), but in his book he describes some of the most fervent pioneers that settled in what is now Israel as exactly the same, non-religious, secular, non-practicing Jews (Jewish by nation and ethnicity, but not by religion, basically). Strange that such an identity can go from one extreme (completely assimilated in another nation, culture, tradition) to the other (forcing a land so as not to assimilate anywhere else). This will always be fascinating to me.
Overall, this is a great account of a large family surviving the atrocities of the 20th century. It is a great account of what it means to be an immigrant, what it means to belong, and build a home, and the exact location and meaning of home.
Recommended for those who like history, latkes, and bras (not necessarily in that order).
In another response to the ever-puzzling "Why did the Jews put up so little resistance?", there's a fascinating and new-to-me chapter on the expectations of the Kaganoviches living in Volozhin, who'd been through a German invasion back in 1918 and were not treated any worse by those invaders than they were by the Russian/Polish/Romanian Christians who constantly conducted progroms.
Well-written and researched, the "Notes" section alone is riveting. Highly recommended.
“The Family is as rich and poignant as any novel, only all true and impeccably researched.” – Erik Larsen, author of In the Garden of Beasts & Devil in the White City
The Family by David Laskin describes Laskin’s
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Over years and events, the family divided into three branches: one stayed in the homeland, one relocated to Palestine, considered the original homeland, and one branch emigrated to America, to New York. This varied and fascinating and loving family had all the characters every family has, and I loved every one of them with their different and real attitudes and talents.
The book is about what they endured, created, pioneered, suffered, held together, triumphed over, and so much more. This family participated in important times in history fully, unknowingly almost. Their instincts were good in many cases. In others, there were no choices. Does that sound familiar?
Excellent literary writing, and profound research. One of the most amazing efforts I've read involving global research of so many kinds. I say this without benefit of the maps that will be included in the final version. The story is mesmerizing.
Don't miss this remarkable book. I can't do it justice in a review because it's so rich in detail and characters and events. It's easy for a book about family history to be so-so. This book reads like a novel and is on the other side of everywhere from mundane. I cared what happened to these people. And who is that on the cover? I kept looking as I read, trying to discern which family this might be, and decided it was all of them, even though it's just 4 people. Maybe they will be identified in final copy.
Don't skip the Epilogue. It's just as interesting as the rest. This isn't just a family story -- it contains interesting, significant history on 3 continents.
David, this is a superb tribute as well as wonderful reading.