My Father's Roses: One family, two wars, three generations divided by fate and bound through love Hardcover – Illustrated, 12 Jun 2008
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About the Author
Nancy Kohner was a respected health writer. She was born in Bradford in 1950. Her father, Rudolph, was a Jewish refugee from prewar Czechoslovakia who married a local girl, Olive. My Father's Roses is the result of decades of work by Nancy reasearching family diaries and letters and piecing together her family history. Nancy died of cancer in 2006, aged 55 just as she was finishing this book. Her daughter Bridget, a historian and archivist for the Wiener Library, completed the manuscript after her mothers death and now provides the link between the past and the present. Bridget lives in London.
Top Customer Reviews
This is a history that comes down from the scale of Grand Events to the level of the individual. Nancy Kohner lived just long enough to complete this book, and she was in a way more the archaeologist of her family than its historian. She was too young to experience what she describes. She worked with her father, her aunt, read thousands of letters and other documents, learned the history of all the objects relating to her family - trunks and boxes of them -that had been brought by her father and her uncle, as they fled from Czechoslovakia to England as the Nazis closed in 1939.
From this huge,, disorganised mass of material, she has recreated an unforgettable, complex, unsentimental, image of their lives. But as she writes of them, she is writing about many families, with (of course) quite different experiences, yet possess the same mixture of joy, squabbles, , disappointments, and darker places that she presents.
This book gives us a historical truth. Purists (and pedants) could complain that she could not know just how something happened in 1913: where are the documents that prove it? That is not important, except in the most trivial box-ticking sense. What she presents with astonishing skill is the inner life of a family.
I have not read a book like this for years, and it will be my personal star for 2008.
On the one hand it shares the life of a family of letter writers as they go about the simple business of keeping in touch. It joins them in a period of relative happiness at the beginning of the 20th Century, and follows the slow evolution of their family life as distance and circumstance take their toll in the decades leading up to the second world war. For this biography alone, and the absorbingly vivid story it tells, it should be read and shared.
On the other hand it is a reflection of the author herself, and this is where it stands apart. Kohner's longing for a connection with the family she never knew is infectious. It is so much more than biography because of the personality the author brings. Her warmth, longing, honesty, and humour bring the book to life, not only advancing a connection between the reader and a bygone time, but between the reader and herself. This book is the product of an archive Kohner spent a lifetime amassing in order to learn about her family. It will no doubt form a cornerstone for future generations wishing to learn about her.
The holocaust has been the subject of many accounts but this work by Nancy Kohner somehow gives a human understanding of her ancestors' situation during the difficult times which they endured.
She obviously spent a great deal of time assimilating and preparing the work and it is such a tragedy that she did not see it published. However, all credit must go to her daughter for completing the task.
A humane story well written and a joy to read.
Nancy's father was youngest son Rudi although much of the letters are between eldest son Franz and his mother Valerie. From the time they are sent away to school in Prague to serving on the front line in WW1 you really get to know them all through a lifetime of letters. It brings alive the turbulence of WW2 and the movement of thousands of jewish families against the contrasting happy times in Podersam.
Given the amount of preserved correspondence it was book that had to be written and one that must be read. It provides the reality of wartime in a way that no history book could ever do
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