The following book review is a special provided for BlackFive readers by Elise Cooper. You can read all of our book reviews by clicking on the Books category on the far right sidebar.
David Laskin’s book, The
Family: Three Journeys Into The Heart of
the Twentieth Century, is a gripping tale that traces the roots of his
ancestors. Although it is a non-fiction
book it reads more like a novel, with characters who are interesting and well
developed. Any American will enjoy this
story since it is really a history of the period from the late 1830s to the
late 1940s. Amazon has chosen it as its
book of the month for October.
The story begins with the birth of Laskin’s
great-great-grandfather in Russia. It
traces how the family separated into three branches. One branch immigrated to
America, including a former Russian revolutionary who ended up founding the
Maidenform Bra Company. Another branch
went to what was then Palestine and participated as a pioneer in the birth of
Israel. The third branch, seventeen
members, unfortunately remained in Europe and was killed during the Holocaust.
Laskin told blackfive.net, “My family reflected these
movements of the early twentieth Century.
It is a book of how history swept up my family and changed us. I believe every family has a story like
this. I hope the readers care about the
individuals and see how they were touched by history.”
The book will remind readers of the “Fiddler on the Roof ”
story, especially with his great aunt Itel who became a revolutionary and
feminist, making sure she chose her own husband. She is by far the most interesting character
because of her many different views.
After coming to America she maintained her socialistic ideology while
becoming a very rich industrialist, the owner of Maidenform. In explaining the quote, “Itel, the socialist
capitalist,” who eventually bought a house that he described as a palace, Laskin
commented to blackfive.net, “Itel was a socialist in views but a capitalist at
heart. She is not utterly consistent,
but that is how many people were back then.”
Besides the interesting characters Laskin also fascinatingly
describes how different historical events affected his family. The description of World War I as seen
through his family’s eyes is very potent. Hyman, a great uncle, became an
American GI who was attacked with mustard gas, and luckily lived to tell about
it. This scene was described with great
Yet, those in his family who remained in Eastern Europe had
to endure the Russian Revolution and a war fought in their backyard. People forget that the Germans of WWI were
not the Nazis of WWII. After the peace
treaty with Russia many of Laskin’s family fell under German control. They were treated with more respect, did not
have to endure the Russian reign of terror, and for the most part had their Jewish
customs accepted. Laskin hopes to show,
“The Germans in WWI were more tolerant.
The Pogroms, attacks on Jews, came from the Russians. Also, Jews were able to climb up in the
German and American armies to become officers which was not permitted in the
In tracing the backgrounds of his family from the late
nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries Laskin captures the historical
significance of the eras. The Family enriches the reader to see how
history plays a role in many amazing and disturbing ways. It reminds people that the past should never
be forgotten with a very riveting story.