There are stories about so many families that have been written in the past and I have loved most of them (of what I have read). There is always something about the history of a family that gets me going to frantically turn the pages. I am aware that is has happened for real and somehow to lessen the blow of the events that occur, I pretend that it is fiction. Or also pretend that things will look hopeful in the book somewhere down the line and someone will not die after all. However, reality is miles away and different from fiction, and perhaps that is how it will always be.
“The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century” by David Laskin is one such book about a family, its three journeys, of the different roads taken and the consequences and aftermath of each. David Laskin has beautifully written or rather documented his family’s history (from his mother’s side) in a book that is not only gripping but also profound and blends perfectly with the incidents of the twentieth century and sometimes makes you wonder, what being human is all about.
The Family is about several generations of a Russian Jewish family and the choices made by them in times of despair and turmoil. It is about how choices shape our lives and of those generations to come. The story begins in 1835 on the western edge of Russia in the village of Volozhin, where six children were raised by Shimon Dov, a Torah scribe and his wife Beyle. Shimon is David’s great-great grandfather. The story is about the children’s lives and how each one led to heading somewhere else and lives transforming, because of that.
From running a successful business by his aunt Itel to Zionist pioneers to family members choosing to stay back and getting erased during the Holocaust, The Family is immensely emotional and yet does not make the reader weep at any point.
The Family is not just the story of one family. It is connected to the history the world and its people during those times. It is about ancestors and descendants and how lives are intertwined, no matter how hard you try escaping it. Read the book for Laskin’s tracing back efforts to his family and charting the entire history. A book that would need time to be spent on. A great book, nonetheless.