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A Chosen Few (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – 1 Apr 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books Inc.; Reprint edition (1 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345448146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345448149
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 74,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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THE THUD OF AN ORANGE STARTLED MOISHE WAKS. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By The Diva on 9 Jun 2006
Format: Paperback
I found this to be a very readable account of the "missing years" of European Jewry after the Holocaust. Having interviewed many people who lived through these times he details the changes and struggles through their experiences. Certainly a good starting point for anyone interested in learning about Judaism in mainland Europe after World War 2.
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Format: Paperback
With his extraordinary breadth of vision and depth of interest, Mark Kurlansky has written an epic which is at once heart-breaking and inspiring.
UNFORTUNATELY the proof readers for the book have let him down badly; in a book of this nature there is absolutely no excuse for the frequent mis-spelling of "minyan" as "minion".
Yes, it may appear a pedantic quibble, but it does detract from a work of very considerable scholarship.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 April 1999
Format: Hardcover
More than typing a review , I want to deeply congratulate the author. I am 40 and it is the best book in the subject I have ever read. Eventhough English is not my native language I can feel the passion the writter used in describing us a real life movie in written words I should say BRAVO for his book.... ...I wish I can get in contact with the author and ask thousands of questions.......
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By Nella on 23 Aug 2014
Format: Paperback
Excellent service, book recieved, very pleased Thank you.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Deserves to Be Widely Read; Kurlansky Should Update It 14 May 2009
By Steven G. Barringer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this book about a year ago after coming across it in an airport bookstore. It is one of the most interesting books I have ever read, on any subject. I highly recommend the book for anyone that enjoys reading (I consider it one of the most enlightening and enjoyable books I've ever read), but especially for readers that are interested in European history or contemporary Europe, in current events, or in the Holocaust and the history and future of Jewish religion and culture. This is Mark Kurlansky's second published book; he went on to write insanely entertaining books on diverse subjects, including the history of salt (not a joke), the history of cod (also not a joke) and a history of the Basque people.

"A Chosen Few" was especially instructive to me as a primer on how people experienced antisemitism in the 20th Century. I grew up in a place where there were no Jews, and hardly any Catholics. I met my first Jew and first Catholic in college when I was 18 years old. I did not learn about the typical cultural prejudices regarding Jews until I was an adult, and had no opportunity to internalize them. Consequently, the persistent antisemitism of European culture has always been puzzling to me. The more I have learned about the periodic bouts of antisemitism in history -- from the expulsion of Jews from the Rhineland in 11th Century, the plague-related persecution of Jews in the 14th Century, the expulsion from Spain in 1492, to the Holocaust -- the more imponderable the whole subject becomes (though I understand the religious/historical/cultural explanations).

"A Chosen Few" helped me understand the persistence of antisemitism for the first time, in a way that a more typical historical or sociological study could not have done. The author's approach is to recount the experiences of particular people and families in European cities, from Paris to Moscow, from the 1930's to the 1990's. His aim is to explain why some Jews decided to stay on in Europe, either in their prewar towns or elsewhere, and why others emigrated (especially to Israel and North America, or to the Soviet Union). Kurlansky explains who these families were, where and how they lived and what their economic and social situations were in the 1930's as antisemitism was on the rise and Nazi Germany began its invasions and annexations.

This use of anecdote, oral and family history is what makes the book so unique and compelling (an earlier reviewer who described this as a weakness misses the point, in my opinion). These moving personal accounts give poignant insight into the experience of ordinary people whose lives were made extraordinary because of the unspeakable atrocities they endured. The narratives made the mystery of antisemitism more accessible and personal to me -- exactly what I needed to give depth to my knowledge of antisemitism, its roots and its "apotheosis" in the Holocaust (excuse the use of a word with generally positive and religious connotations in other contexts).

I have wondered how any Jew could have decided to stay in Europe after the war, especially in Germany (if he/she had any choice). The book makes these personal decisions understandable in the context of individuals and families, their religion and traditions, and most importantly, what Jewish families lost in the war and what they had left to reclaim afterward. One learns how the few survivors of once-large, assimilated and prosperous German, Belgian and French Jewish families survived the deprivations after the war in refugee camps or on their own, and how relatives found each other in the camps and across the post-war diaspora. The author also recounts the stories of many Jewish families living in Prague, Budapest, Moscow and other places where assimilation was perhaps less possible than in pre-war Germany. Though backgrounds and experience are diverse, consistent themes emerge from the accounts: the (relatively) enlightened policies of many European governments towards Jews in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the persistence(nonetheless)of cultural antisemitism, the intense disruption to generations of Jewish memory and tradition caused by the Shoah, and the difficulty, despite the Holocaust, of leaving ancestral homes forever. The book illuminates the initial attraction of Soviet communism to many Jews, who saw the underlying egalitarian Marxist theory as an alternative to centuries of European and Catholic despotic antisemitism. (On this point, I also differ somewhat with an earlier reviewer who felt that the book does not adequately explain this phenomenon. Kurlansky does not set out to answer this complex question. Rather, he simply recounts faithfully what attracted some Jews to live in Moscow before and after World War II).

Kurlansky, without making the connection explicitly, illuminates how many Polish people relate to Jews much in the same way white Americans relate to blacks. While there is an ugly history (and recurrent threat) of antisemitism in modern Poland, Jewish music and traditions also are very popular, and a part of Polish cultural identity. While thinking about these contradictions, I realized that they are amazingly similar to the schizophrenic relationship of white Americans with black Americans: racism lives on in our society alongside our exaltation of the art and culture of black people. Many of us know Americans who harbor fundamental prejudices against blacks at the same time they enjoy jazz, rap, hip-hop and other uniquely black art forms as essentially American and revere black athletes, actors and entertainers, and hold out these arts and personalities as essentially American. This is one of many insights that can be gained from reading "A Chosen Few," and why I thought it was such a successful concept for a book.

Finally, the book chronicles (ominously) how antisemitism is reappearing across Europe. All educated people should be aware of this phenomenon. As someone who grew up and was educated in the 1960's and 1970's, I learned to believe that the extremity of the Holocaust could never be repeated, that the world community would never again allow organized, state-sponsored persecution of Jews (or of any ethnic, religious or racial group). I lost the latter illusion a long time ago, but still believed until recently that Jews would be specially protected by law and policy, because of how they had been singled out in the Holocaust. "A Chosen Few" helped disabuse me of that final hopeful notion.

Sadly, one realizes from reading "A Chosen Few" that there is something endemic about antisemitism to European culture. Antisemitism reappears despite what has happened to the Jews, and even because of it. It is impossible to be complacent about it, or to be optimistic that antisemitism is a thing of the past. All the more reason for people to read this book. I am amazed that there are not more reviews of "A Chosen Few" on Amazon.com. I attribute this to the fact that it was first published pre-Amazon. This is a remarkable book; it is as enjoyable to read as it is enlightening. From an avid reader, I rank it in my top 30 most memorable books.

I would love to know what happened to these families since 1994 (when the book was first published). Mr. Kurlansky just finished a translation of Zola's "The Belly of Paris." Wouldn it not be a great time to revisit and update these accounts and publish a new version of the book?
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A movie translated into written words. 7 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
More than typing a review , I want to deeply congratulate the author. I am 40 and it is the best book in the subject I have ever read. Eventhough English is not my native language I can feel the passion the writter used in describing us a real life movie in written words I should say BRAVO for his book.... ...I wish I can get in contact with the author and ask thousands of questions.......
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful needed text on oft ignored subject 9 Mar 2004
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful book by a great author. It reads like a novel, from character to character from country to country surveying Europe from 1945 to present and the lives of the Jews who remained after the Nazi horror. Looking deeply into the lives of Jewish communities in the eastern block the author illuminates the still struggling Polish community, who suffered anti-Semitism either because they were communists or because they were not, usually simply as an excuse. The author deals with specific individuals and this is probably the greatest flaw of the text. Jews came to the very pinnacles of government in Poland and Czechslovakia(Slansky) and yet these pivotal government officials are all but ignored, because the author concentrates on the everyday lives of Jews who chose to either immigrate to or remain in Europe. So one is found wishing they could read more about Bruno Kriesky the Jew who led Austria in the 70s and was noted for being anti-Israel.
The book is broken up into neat sections detailing the growth out of the rubble of the holocaust, 1968 and the rebirth of European anti-Semitism among other subjects. Good portions are devoted to large Jewish communities in France and Italy. One overlooked community are the Spanish Jews who supported Franco, but otherwise this book is a must read for anyone interested in modern Judaism or post WWII Europe.
Seth J. Frantzman
Kurlansky sees and tells the truth 17 April 2014
By Samoa W. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Many stories about Jews who returned to European cities after the Holocaust and tried to resume normal lives. Compared to the pre WWII population, only a small number of Jews returned and stayed. Their stories are amazing and some are very sad. In a number of countries Anti-Semitism resurfaced and again ruined lives. Mark Kurlansky tells the truth as he sees it even if it is painful.
The book was originally published in 1995. This paperback has a updated introduction at 2002. I only wish the whole text had been updated. Perhaps a sequel is in order.
Kurlansky 28 Sep 2013
By N. Nelson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book appealed to me as I like Kurlansky's writing and European history. I expect it to be an enlightening read.
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