Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War

by Ian Buruma

Hardcover, 2016





New York : Penguin Press, 2016.


"A family history of surpassing beauty and power: Ian Buruma's account of his grandparents' enduring love through the terror and separation of two world wars. During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma's grandparents, and the film director John Schlesinger's parents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other. Their only recourse was to write letters back and forth. And write they did, often every day. In a way they were just picking up where they left off in 1918, at the end of their first long separation because of the Great War that swept Bernard away to some of Europe's bloodiest battlefields. The thousands of letters between them were part of an inheritance that ultimately came into the hands of their grandson, Ian Buruma. Now, in a labor of love that is also a powerful act of artistic creation, Ian Buruma has woven his own voice in with theirs to provide the context and counterpoint necessary to bring to life, not just a remarkable marriage, but a class, and an age. Winifred and Bernard inherited the high European cultural ideals and attitudes that came of being born into prosperous German-Jewish emigre families. To young Ian, who would visit from Holland every Christmas, they seemed the very essence of England, their spacious Berkshire estate the model of genteel English country life at its most pleasant and refined. It wasn't until years later that he discovered how much more there was to the story. At its heart, Their Promised Land is the story of cultural assimilation. The Schlesingers were very British in the way their relatives in Germany were very German, until Hitler destroyed that option. The problems of being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism even in the country they loved were met with a kind of stoic discretion. But they showed solidarity when it mattered most. As the shadows of war lengthened again, the Schlesingers mounted a remarkable effort, which Ian Buruma describes movingly, to rescue twelve Jewish children from the Nazis and see to their upkeep in England. Many are the books that do bad marriages justice; precious few books take readers inside a good marriage. In Their Promised Land, Buruma has done just that; introducing us to a couple whose love was sustaining through the darkest hours of the century"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
Prolific writer of history and sociology Ian Buruma has focused on a very personal history in this book: that of his grandparents, Win and Bun (Winifred and Bernard) Schlesinger. Their love affair started around the same time that WW I did (although at that point it was discouraged by both families
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because of their youth) and continued right up to Bernard’s death in 1984, and it’s an affair that was closely narrated by their letters. During their separations during both World Wars, they wrote every day and many of those letters were saved, providing a treasure trove for Buruma.

Bun and Win’s parents were all prosperous- both their fathers were stock brokers- Jews who emigrated from Germany to England. They strove to fit into their adoptive country, celebrating Christmas and ignoring the anti-Semitism they ran into. When the First World War came, Win and Bun both desired to serve; Win became a nurse and Bun was a stretcher bearer on the fields, where he saw horrible things. Between the wars they married and started a family- which, during WW 2, increased suddenly by 12 Jewish children rescued from the Nazis.

Buruma’s focus is not just on the loving marriage of his grandparent’s, however. It’s also about cultural assimilation and anti-Semitism. Despite facing prejudice- Bernard’s employment prospects were limited because he was Jewish- the family remained devoted to England and *almost* all it stood for. This is a fascinating look at what is going on all around us now as people leave their home countries and face the same kind of prejudice.
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LibraryThing member vguy
Deep warm exploration of the experience of integrated Jews through the first half of the 20th C. close to my mother's story. includes even the elements of antiSemitism within Jewry. Buruma's extremely multi-cultural background makes for many insights
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5804. Their Promised Land My Grandparents in Love and War, by Ian Buruma (read 16 Oct 2022) This book, published in 2016, tells of the author's grandparents, who were born in England of German Jewish parents. His grandfather's,surname was Schlesinger and he served in the British Army in World War
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One and again in the Second World War. This resulted in many letters from his grandfather to his grandmother, even though they did not marry till 1927. The author relies on those letters to tell the story of his grandparents' lives. The account is of considerable interest when dealing with the lives but there is much about their love and fears and over time this gets a bit tiresome. But there are good parts of the book and it was readable. It is a different way to compile a biography and the book is not unreadable tho not excessively gripping at times.
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