I think every family has at least one person who is impossible to find a gift for. They have it all or they are too picky or they have really bad taste (after all, you are the queen, or king, of discernment)! However, here is just one book that is so diverse, so captivating and accessible that I would think it might fill in some gaps on your shopping list.
The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin | Hardcover |400 pages | ISBN 9780670025473 | 15 Oct 2013 | Viking Adult
Do you have anyone in your family who is interested in family history, genealogy, the Holocaust, immigrant stories, or the fulfillment of the American dream? How about just success, relationships, or incredible storytelling? Well, then check out David Laskin’s The Family.
I had the honor of meeting Mr. Laskin last month at the Pacific NW Booksellers trade show. About 30 authors graciously hopped from one table to the next, intimately showering us with tales about their latest books, their writing style, their inspirations, and even their pets.
His name sounded familiar, so immediately I asked what else he had written. Lo and behold, Mr. Laskin is the author of The Children’s Blizzard, a heartbreaking story of the winter of 1888, when one of the worst storms in history blasted through the plains notably killing a group of school children on their way home. Hundreds of immigrant homesteaders were also killed, along with dreams of hope and prosperity of thousands of others who were wooed westward. Laskin follows to stories of five pioneer families, elaborating and weaving each tale to discuss the immigrant experience and the consequential halt of the westward expansion along with meteorology, inefficiencies in the US Army, and the aftermath of the storm. This stunning read was a big hit with book groups around the county.
But he was there to promote The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, so in his mild-mannered way he commenced.
From a traditional Jewish family, tight-knit, full of stories and lots of chatter, Laskin never heard any stories about struggle. He knew that his grandfather and uncles were successful businessmen. He knew his grandfather’s sister, Itel, had founded Maidenform. He even remembered visiting Itel’s mansion on Long Island with its grand ballroom and private beach. He even knew he had some relatives living in Israel.
It wasn’t until his grandfather died that he came across his grieving grandmother who opened a whole new family history that he had never heard before. She told him what it was like to grow up in the “Old Country” during the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution. Many Jews, including his grandparents, had found their way to America with the help of German soldiers. Those who remained were astonished by the atrocities that followed. Some of his own family were victims of the Holocaust.
This was all news to him. No one had ever told these stories around the dinner table.
Several years later, Laskin decided to research this unspoken part of his heritage. He learned that seventeen descendents of his grandfather perished at the hands of the Nazis. This is the spark that ignited the research for The Family, and once again Laskin succeeds in creating a miraculous story that is not just a Jewish story, but as Ivan Doig pointed out “…His generations of Cohens could be your Johansens, Smiths, Lopezes, Schmidts, O’Houlihans, even my Scottish peasant forebears.”