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The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century

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4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  806 Ratings  ·  170 Reviews
The author of the The Children’s Blizzard delivers an epic work of twentieth century history through the riveting story of one extraordinary Jewish family.

With cinematic power and beauty, bestselling author David Laskin limns his own genealogy to tell the spellbinding tale of the three drastically different paths that his family members took across the span of 150 years.

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Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 15th 2013 by Viking (first published 2013)
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Lenny D
Oct 21, 2013 Lenny D rated it really liked it
An enthralling, vivid account of that most dangerous type of history: that which skims the line of what we THINK we know. The subject matter is not generally something I would seek out, but Laskin's prose is fast, exciting, and a perfect narrator. He covers a lot of ground here - we go from a history of the American female breast to the trenches of WWI in the span of a few pages. As a "vigorously secular" American, Laskin treats his ancestors and their Jewish faith with a respectful empathy that ...more
David V.
Oct 12, 2013 David V. rated it it was amazing
Received as an ARC via my employer Barnes & Noble. Began on 10-12-13.
Finished it on 10-17-13. Truly a remarkable story of a Jewish family over 150 years from western Russian Empire to the U.S.and Israel through the Holocaust. So many emotions came to me from reading this book: smiles,tears,and haunting fears. These people were courageous,foolhardy, gutsy, timid, lusty, naive, stubborn, ultra-religious, secular, and probably 20 other adjectives I could think of, but you certainly won't forget
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Stephanie
Apr 03, 2014 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
This nonfiction tale of the author's family is riveting in its own right, but also hits all the stories I seem to be drawn to: European immigrants of the Lower East Side and the Holocaust.

David Laskin explores three brothers' families from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century. One brother - Laskin's great-grandfather - immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Although they started as most immigrants living in the Lower East Side by living in overcrowded ten
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Christoph Fischer
Oct 12, 2013 Christoph Fischer rated it it was amazing
"The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century" by David Laskin was given to me as galley preview.

The book is an excellent account of the fate of one wider family as it makes its way through Central and Eastern Europe from the early 1800s into the late 1900s.

With great detail from private letters and with further immaculate research about the times Laskin sets great sceneries from Vilnius to Minsk, to America and Israel.

The book is well written and gives enough focus and att
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David
Dec 27, 2013 David rated it really liked it
Laskin's family may as well be my family: Jews from the Pale who land on the Lower East Side and make their way up in America. While the names and faces are different, the story line is the same, and that pulled me into the book. What kept me going was the sense of watching the leaves of the historical record blossom and turn into each major chapter of the 20th century, Having done my share of genealogical research 15 years ago, I understood immediately how he was using primary source materials ...more
Florence
Jan 25, 2014 Florence rated it it was amazing
The "Heart of the Twentieth Century" was filled with darkness. The author had a curiosity about his ancestors. This remarkable book is the result. The generation born in mid nineteenth century eastern Europe were devout Jews. Their lives were proscribed by faith and rituals. As time passed the family suffered religious persecution. They began to dream of a better life in America or in the Jewish homeland of Palestine. The ones who emigrated were spared the savagery of Nazi fiends during World Wa ...more
Rebecca Scaglione
Nov 08, 2013 Rebecca Scaglione rated it really liked it
I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

“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 family tree, in three intermingled stories. The stories of his family members from Europe (Russia and Poland), Israel, and America are told in chronological order, through WWI and WWII, over the course of
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Pamela
Dec 21, 2013 Pamela added it
As an amateur Jewish family historian I knew that THE FAMILY would make an excellent book to read on my recent visit with relatives in Israel. The book's stories paralleled conversations, museum tours and personal experiences during my travels. Laskin provides interpretation of what happened to his relatives immigrant experience in the U.S. and Palestine as well as supposing what his European relatives endured during the 30s and early 40s before being murdered. Much insight can be gained as well ...more
Steve Radlow
Mar 14, 2014 Steve Radlow rated it it was amazing
In this outstanding book, Laskin tells the story of three branches of his family-all descendants of a Talmudic scribe who lived in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th Century. The American branch emigrated to New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century and, although they struggled, they become quite successful in the business world. Chief among these personalities was Itel ( Ida ) Rosenthal who became the owner of the Maidenform Bra Company. The second branch of the family emigrated to ...more
cameron
Dec 13, 2014 cameron rated it it was amazing
I have been studying Jewish life and WW2 and the Holocaust for over 50 years and this book not only touched me deeply but taught me a lot I didn't know, both facts as well as insights into Jewish families.
This is non fiction and written by a 4th generation family member. Much of the documentation is from interviews with family members, historical research and many recovered letters.

The family, originated in an ever changing Eastern Europe where countries and governments and municipal masters ch
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Margaret Sankey
Nov 17, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
Compelling family biography of three generations and three branches of Cohens from Volozhin--the ones who moved to America, where great-aunt Itel, the Socialist Revolutionary, created the Maidenform Bra company with her iron will, the branch who settled Palestine as pioneer farmers, and the carefully reconstructed fates of those who stayed around Vilna and died in the Holocaust (with the exception of patriarch Shalom Tvi, who had come to New York to visit in 1939 and remained stranded in the US, ...more
Bebe (Sarah) Brechner
A wonderful, detailed account of an immigrant family tree -- those who stayed in the 'old country' only to perish horribly in the Holocaust, those who chose to be pioneers in Israel, and those who came to America. It's the story told thousands of time in bits and pieces, but put together as a whole by this talented journalist.

A family history that mirrors everything that has made up the USA (and Israel). These astonishing stories deserve to be heard and recorded. I'm sure that many will find si
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Shawna
Nov 08, 2013 Shawna rated it really liked it
To start out, this book was very out of my reading comfort zone. I was pleasantly surprised, however, with how much I enjoyed the whole idea of a family going through so many historical times and personal stories with that. I found it incredibly fascinating the journey that David Laskin, the author, went through with finding all of his incredible family history. A truly amazing book that I would definitely recommend if you are interested in this genre of books!
Miles
Feb 04, 2017 Miles rated it it was amazing
This is the gripping true story of an extended family spread across three continents, two centuries and six generations. Beginning with the author’s third great grandfather, a Torah scribe devoted to the holy art of creating Torah scrolls on parchment, we follow the family down three paths – the immigrants who make it to America in the first half of the twentieth century, the immigrants who make it to Palestine and Israel, and the branch that remains in Belarus and Lithuania and were therefore s ...more
Elaine
Jul 19, 2017 Elaine added it
Initially I found it difficult to "get hooked" on this story. Having been encouraged to keep reading, I finally got immersed in the detail and history of the author's family tree. While I kept referring to the depiction of the tree itself to clarify the many names offered, I cannot help but marvel at the amount of perseverance and dedication to the project of researching the family.

Equally important was the epilogue describing the many contacts with family members across the US, as well as Israe
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Mary Whisner
Aug 28, 2013 Mary Whisner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biographies, wwii
Capturing the lives and characters of one extended family, David Laskin takes the reader from the shtetls of nineteenth century Eastern Europe— region that is today Belarus and during the twentieth century was variously Russia, Poland, Lithuania—through major transits and upheavals in the twentieth century.

A long line of men in the family were Torah scribes, devout and scholarly. (Since copying Torahs and writing out mezuzot didn't pay very well, the family was often supported by the wife's lab
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Lorri
What an amazing and compelling book! The family/ancestral history is a wonderful tribute to those whose lives came before the author, David Laskin. Just as important are the profound historical facts depicted within the pages.

From the Russian Empire, Israel and America, the journeys taken are cohesively written, with word-imagery that fills all of the senses. The reader garners glimpses into the past that combine social, ethnic and familial aspects.

From revolution and war, striving to survive u
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Michelle
Oct 18, 2013 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Wow. This one really lives up to the chatter I've been hearing. Fascinating book, by the author of The Children's Blizzard, which I also loved. Anyway, he was curious if a certain notorious Soviet Communist who shared a family last name was in fact related to his family. As it turns out, he wasn't, but as the author uncovered the real story, it got infinitely more interesting. As it turns out, the author's family, from towns and villages in what are now Poland, Belarus and Lithuania, ended up sp ...more
Juls
Oct 12, 2013 Juls rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recentlyread
This book took me longer to read than usual because of time restraints in my life but boy, did I love this book. I'm not sure if I so connected to it because I studied Jewish immigration to the US in my Jewish adult education course, or learned about the Halutzim (early Zionist settlers to Palestine in the 1920's and 30's) from my daugter's school or the fact that many of us had family lost in the Shoah, but I loved every moment of this book. I found the journey completely engrossing, I found ev ...more
Amy
This is how I get my history now--reading family histories that incorporate world events. Here we start in the 1870s in a town famous for its yeshiva. The children and grandchildren take us to New York's Lower East Side, to Jewish settlements in Palestine, and to some of the grimmest, bleakest places the Nazis created after they invaded the Soviet Union.

The last third of the book is hard to read. As Itel lounges in her "palace" on Long Island Sound, rich beyond belief from starting the Maidenfo
...more
Jeanette
Jan 23, 2014 Jeanette rated it it was amazing
Tracing in detail this author's branch of ancestors from the Russian Pale town/city of Volozhin, Belarus- and their varying destinations and branches to the present time. 1835 is earliest- so this is nearly 200 years' record. Superb documentation- in both the core beliefs, priority of occupation, and personal/individual depth of personality description. Stupendous immigration saga. And more similar than differing to my own ancestors coming from Palermo and Idar-Oberstein- every single ancestor o ...more
Michele Weiner
Nov 10, 2013 Michele Weiner rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story of the Kaganovich family of the Jewish Pale of Settlement, variously citizens of Lithuania, Russia and Poland, whose fate was determined by their decision to stay or to leave the land they were born in. The American branch of the family founded two very successful businesses-one of which was iconic. The Israeli branch endured hardships that changed them forever. But the branch of the family that remained in the Pale was exterminated. The reasons for their actions, the letter ...more
Madalene
Jun 18, 2014 Madalene rated it really liked it
A friend recommended an earlier book by David Laskin, called the Children's Blizzard, which I really enjoyed. Now the author tackles researching his own ancestors - at least back 130 or so years, and then jumps between the branches that scattered to Israel, the U.S. and stayed put in what was then Poland. The book moves chronologically, which is helpful since it can be difficult to keep the names straight. Each tale is shared with a certain amount of distance, showing that creating a very succes ...more
Andy
Jan 05, 2014 Andy rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was well written, well researched and told with such warmth. David Laskin found out details about his family that would not be known to everyone and he imagined the lives of family members where he didn't have solid evidence. This is one of those books that I will read again and will recommend to my own family members.
Cindie Harp
I did not know, when I picked up this fabulous book, how much would be about and take place during the Holocaust. However, by the time I realized it, I could not have stopped even if I wanted to. Somehow David Laskin made these long-ago relatives that he never knew feel like my closest friends. I celebrated and mourned them as the story went along.
Diane Heath
Nov 28, 2013 Diane Heath rated it really liked it
This is another Jewish author who grew up in the 60's but did not comprehend the effects of Russian pogroms and Nazi policies on his family til years later. This book is the story of three branches on his tree. One came to America before the first world war. One went to Palestine in the 20's and 30's. The third branch found themselves trapped in Europe during WW II.
Jody Tzucker
Nov 07, 2013 Jody Tzucker rated it it was amazing
I love this book! It gives a fabulous insight into the times. It helps me understand the life of any of my ancestors, both who stayed and perished, or emigrated and flourished. Extremely well written. Kudos to the author for giving voice to his family.
Sarah
Dec 04, 2013 Sarah rated it it was amazing
David Laskin impressively weaves together years of genealogical research into a rich, detailed story of Jewish struggle and triumph in the 20th century. This reads like a novel and should be accessible even to people who don't normally enjoy non-fiction.
K.L. Hallam
Nov 21, 2013 K.L. Hallam rated it it was amazing
I won this book in a raffle from the publisher. It was a good read. Rich in historic detail, some difficult to imagine, others intimate enough the past came into view. The story of this family will always be in my heart.
Eve
Dec 20, 2013 Eve rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book and am happy I read it. It was confusing at times but fascinating to follow one families odyssey through the the first half of the 20th century. I wish I knew more of the family up to current times.
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Born in Brooklyn and raised in Great Neck, New York, I grew up hearing stories that my immigrant Jewish grandparents told about the “old country” (Russia) that they left at the turn of the last century. When I was a teenager, my mother’s parents began making yearly trips to visit our relatives in Israel, and stories about the Israeli family sifted down to me as well. What I never heard growing up ...more
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