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People of the Books: Uncovering Jewish Family History

People of the Books: Uncovering Jewish Family History

Uncovering Jewish Family History

From People of the Books, a JUF News blog with
reviews, recommendations, and other reasons to read.
By Spertus Institute's Betsy Gomberg. 

Books about Jewish family histories — like the Jewish families they portray — come in all shapes and sizes. Some chronicle life in situations and places very much like your own family's experiences, while others share stories of Jewish families in circumstances and corners of the world entirely unlike your own.  

In The Family, this year's One Book | One Community selection, author David Laskin traces his own remarkable family across five generations and three continents. He sleuths out past locations, uncovers long unread correspondences, and interviews historians, close friends, and newly discovered distant cousins.

With Laskin's family memoir as inspiration, the books listed here are recommendations from the One Book team at Spertus Institute. Like The Family, each unearths the history of one Jewish family, often with surprises discovered along the way.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance 
by Edmund de Waal 

When he inherits a collection of tiny Japanese sculptures, renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal seeks to find out where they came from and how they survived. In doing so, he uncovers the rise and fall of an incredible nineteenth-century Jewish banking dynasty.

Everything is Illuminated 
by Jonathan Safran Foer

In this novel based on real life, a young man sets out on a quixotic journey to find the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. A film adapted from the novel starred Elijah Wood.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street 
by Susan Jane Gilman

A dark comedy novel about the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, raised by Italians on New York's Lower East Side.

They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland before the Holocaust 
by Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

A remarkable record-in both words and images — of Jewish life in a pre-WWII Polish town, as seen through the eyes of one inquisitive boy.

The Red Leather Diary
by Lily Kopel

A discarded diary rescued from a Manhattan dumpster compels a young writer working at The New York Times to find its owner and tell her story.

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million 
by Daniel Mendelsohn

Mendelsohn, an award-winning author and critic, searches for the truth behind his family's tragic past. 

A Tale of Love and Darkness
by Amos Oz

A family memoir that takes place against the backdrop of the birth of Israel, written by one of Israel's most important writers. A National Jewish Book Award winner. Soon to be released as a movie starring Natalie Portman.

My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past
by Ariel Sabar

The author and his father travel to find what's left of his father's birthplace, a tiny Jewish enclave that existed for 3,000 years in what is now the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography.

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner:
A Family Memoir
by Meir Shalev

From one of Israel's most celebrated novelists, a charming memoir about his pioneer grandmother in 1920's Palestine. 

Little Failure: A Memoir
by Gary Shteyngart 

The acclaimed novelist writes with humor about his own American immigrant experience.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Betsy GombergBetsy Gomberg

One Book | One Community is the Chicago Jewish community's celebration of Jewish Book Month. Each year, a single book is chosen for a series of activities and resources in Chicago and the suburbs. This year's winning book is David Laskin's The Family, named a best book of the year by the Seattle TimesKirkus Review, and the New York Public Library.

Visit for information.

One Book | One Community is supported, in part, by the Robert & Toni Bader Charitable Foundation. JUF News is the media sponsor. We are pleased to be working with synagogue partners Congregation Etz Chaim and North Suburban Synagogue Beth El as well as our colleagues at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center — and we hope to see you at one of the many events.