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The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century Hardcover – 15 Oct 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books (15 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067002547X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670025473
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 3.2 x 23.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,154,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 Oct 2013
Format: Hardcover
How does a family survive and grow in the midst of bad times? If members are struck down by cudgels, fire, poison gas, and guns can the family tree continue to blossom? Author David Laskin, in his new book, "The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century", takes a family - his own extended one - from the shtetels of what is today's Belarus to the United States and Israel. But "three" journeys? That third "journey" ended in the killing pits at Ponar and the ghetto at Vilna and a fire pit at Klooga in Estonia.

David Laskin's family on his mother's side began in the shtetel of Rakov and the yeshiva center of Volozhin, both in current-day Belarus. Their family name was Kagan or Kaganovich, which is a derivative of the priestly name of "Cohen". Many of the men were scholars and torah scribes and the women either kept the house or made the coin. Hard times in then-Russia - pogroms and government suppression and economic failures - made the idea of emigrating to "der Goldene Medina" - the United States - a very attractive one. Several members of the family went to New York City in the early 1900's. Hard work and luck turned their lives into increasingly prosperous ones. By the 1920's one branch of the US family had found success in the wholesale metals business, which the other branch became "Maidenform", an early creator of bras and girdles. Remember the old ads, "I dreamed I rode a merry-go-round in my Maidenform bra" or some-such? Well, they were the creation of Itel Kagan Rosenthal who was a fiery socialist back in Rakov til she became a sterling capitalist here in the US.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 112 reviews
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
A masterful tale of a family's survival... 19 Oct 2013
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How does a family survive and grow in the midst of bad times? If members are struck down by cudgels, fire, poison gas, and guns can the family tree continue to blossom? Author David Laskin, in his new book, "The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century", takes a family - his own extended one - from the shtetels of what is today's Belarus to the United States and Israel. But "three" journeys? That third "journey" ended in the killing pits at Ponar and the ghetto at Vilna and a fire pit at Klooga in Estonia.

David Laskin's family on his mother's side began in the shtetel of Rakov and the yeshiva center of Volozhin, both in current-day Belarus. Their family name was Kagan or Kaganovich, which is a derivative of the priestly name of "Cohen". Many of the men were scholars and torah scribes and the women either kept the house or made the coin. Hard times in then-Russia - pogroms and government suppression and economic failures - made the idea of emigrating to "der Goldene Medina" - the United States - a very attractive one. Several members of the family went to New York City in the early 1900's. Hard work and luck turned their lives into increasingly prosperous ones. By the 1920's one branch of the US family had found success in the wholesale metals business, which the other branch became "Maidenform", an early creator of bras and girdles. Remember the old ads, "I dreamed I rode a merry-go-round in my Maidenform bra" or some-such? Well, they were the creation of Itel Kagan Rosenthal who was a fiery socialist back in Rakov til she became a sterling capitalist here in the US. But with assimilation also came a lessening of the faith - the Orthodox Jewish faith that kept the family together back in Russia - and the US branch of the family became less and less religiously observant as the generations passed along.

Other members of the Rakov family emigrated to Palestine in the same time, after years of Zionist fervor back in Russia. Most worked the land and founded developments and, eventually, one grandson died in defense of Israel in the 1973 war. The family prospered in Israel and that branch of the tree grew strong. But it was the final branch, that of those family members who stayed in Poland in the darkening days of the 1930's into the years of final destruction in the early 1940's as the Germans invaded what was then Poland (the borders had changed after WW1) and killed the 15 or so members of the family unable to escape to...anywhere "safe".

And that part of the story - the prosperous American branch of the family unable to help those left behind in Rakov and Vilna - is one of the most interesting. Unable to help...or unwilling? Or simply unknowing about the increasingly horrifying conditions of Jews in that widely disputed area between Germany and the Soviet Union? Those left behind sent letters to loved ones abroad asking for help in emigrating but while money was sent by the American branch, little or no real help was given to their trapped family members. All met death in the German occupation of the area, after being confined to ghettos or sent to work camps and concentration camps.

David Laskin brings the book up-to-date after WW2. Family members who had separated in the early 1900's managed to find each other and relationships were established by both branches who survived - those in Israel and the United States. His book is an epic journey - both physically and religiously - of a family who survived through the horrors of war.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
More Than Just a History 23 Oct 2013
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The family's story begins in 1835 on the western edge of Russia in the village of Volozhin, where Shimon Dov HaKohen, author David Laskin’s great-great grandfather, was born. Shimon Dov, a Torah scribe, and his wife Beyle raised six children, living a quiet life in their pious community. Like parents everywhere, Shimon Dov and Beyle hoped their offspring would stay nearby and lead the same quiet lives they had chosen.

THE FAMILY follows several generations of that Russian Jewish family through decades of births, marriages and deaths. Each person born in each generation has his own ideas, hopes and dreams. And each must work and search to find the life to which he believes he wants. Rather than trace each generation, this review will trace the three main paths.

One popular path some descendants took was entrepreneurship. Those folks settled in America and, through much hard work and sacrifice, succeeded in business beyond their wildest dreams. The author’s aunt Itel ran a very successful dressmaking business. When the flapper look became popular, she branched out into the bra business and enjoyed great success as the founder of Maidenform Bra Company. Three of Itel's brothers --- Harry, Sam and Hyman --- settled in the Lower East Side of New York, where they operated a wholesale business that also thrived.

A second path led to the Holy Land for family members who became Zionist pioneers. The first to settle in the Holy Land was Chaim in 1924. He joined a moshav, a cooperative farming village that gave him more autonomy than he would have living on a kibbutz. Life was hard, working the arid land and dealing with complicated problems of who owned the Land. Sonia, a cousin of Chaim's, left home in 1932 with four friends. Their circuitous route eventually landed them in Hafia, where Sonia traveled alone to Herzliya and met up with Chaim, whom she married the following year.

The family had already endured a world war and a depression. The folks who chose to stay behind or who were not able to immigrate to safety when they needed to became part of the horrible ethnic cleansing known today as the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. That tragic path led to brutality and death.

David Laskin, a modern-day scribe, met his cousin Benny, Sonia and Chaim's son, who shared his treasure trove of 281 family letters. Those letters, written and cherished over the years, sent from the Old Country to America and the Holy Land added much help to the massive, lengthy and tireless research that then led to this book’s publication. One family and three very different paths. THE FAMILY is not only an important history book. As it traces the roots of just one family, it clearly shows that decisions of where to live and how to live often greatly affect the lives of our descendants in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

Reviewed by Carole Turner
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful, Insightful, and Beautifully Written 10 Nov 2013
By david b. williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As Mr. Laskin has done in his previous books, he has crafted a moving and thoughtful story, which reveals his deep passion for his subject, his brilliant research, and his beautiful writing. The Family is impossible to put down, though at times incredibly painful to read because of the horrors he describes. But despite those horrors, Laskin leaves the reader with hope, from the resilience of his family. We are fortunate that such a gifted writer shared his story of his family. I suspect that each person who reads The Family will learn a bit more not only about the world of Mr. Laskin's family but gain insights about one's own family.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An Astounding Book 25 Nov 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This meticulously researched and beautifully written book chronicles an amazing family whose experience spans the history of the 20th century. It reads like a novel and I got so drawn into it that I had to keep reminding myself that this was all true. It is an epic story of triumph and tragedy that anyone could relate to and enjoy.

The story is of a Russian Jewish family but, as another reviewer said, you don't have to be Jewish to love this book. It makes me want to read other family histories from other religious backgrounds and from other countries. I just hope they will be as well written as this one.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Dedicated Reader 16 Dec 2013
By Dedicated Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What an interesting book! To follow generations of a Jewish family and learn of their customs, traditions and heartbreaks was quite a learning experience. I never got bored reading this book and hope others enjoy it as much as I did.
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