The Family by David Laskin

One family, three fates. . .

Intrigued by rumors of a shared ancestry with an infamous villain, David Laskin uncovered the stories of his family’s past- only to discover that the truth was far more interesting.

“The Family” follows the story of two brothers, Avram and Shalom Tvi, who grew up in Volozhin, the sons of a devoutly Jewish Russian who painstakingly hand-copies the Torah.

As time passes, the two brothers part ways, making their futures with their own families. Avram’s daughter, Itel, joins the Bund (a socialist Jewish workers org), becoming the leader of the group and falling in love with activist Wolf Rosenthal. Due to threats of arrest from the government, she moves to America, and is followed soon after by her parents and all but one of her brothers, Chaim, who makes aliyah to Israel.

Itel worked hard to build a name for herself in America, running a dress-making business which soon became high in demand. She partnered with Enid Bissett, as together they created the “Maiden Form” bra, in protest to the fashionable yet chest-flattening “Boyish Form” of the 1920’s, creating today’s well-known company, Maiden Form.

Back in Europe, Shalom Tvi marries an heir to a thriving company, becoming wealthy and changing his name. He and his wife Beyle have a daughter named Sonia. The family experiences an incredible amount of suffering and oppression under the innumerable “pogroms” and riots  against the Jews, experiencing the outbreak of the first world war, the downfall of the Romanov rule in 1917, and the rise of Socialism.

Shalom Tvi’s daughter Sonia follows in her cousin’s footsteps and decides to make Aliyah to Israel, learning the hard ways of working the land, slowly bringing it back to life through back-breaking work. Eventually, she falls in love with Chaim and they marry, creating their own family which they are determined to raise and keep in the land of their ancestors.

In hopes to visit his brother and his prospering family, Shalom travels to America, where he tragically becomes trapped during the outbreak of world war two. Travel restrictions keep him from returning to his family in Russia, and all he can do is wait and pray for their safety- but all hope is lost when he hears that his entire family has been killed by Nazis. Eventually, Shalom travels to Israel to live out the remainder of his days with his daughter Sonia and her family.

This book is incredibly enlightening to the realities of this tragic and tumultuous period in history- from the heavy Jewish persecution in Russia at the turn of the century, to the Russian war with Japan (1904) to the many revolutions, riots, and pogroms that raised their ugly heads throughout the land, WWI, the overthrow of the Romanov rule and rise of Socialism, the Great Depression, and the unspeakable horrors of WWII. This book has so much to teach you about history that is so often forgotten or simply glossed over in the textbooks- unbelievable.

“The Family” tells the story of an inspiring generation who took nothing for granted, and believed they could accomplish greatness. Often referred to as the ‘greatest generation’, these people were incredibly industrious, hard-working, and entrepreneurial.

This book whets my curiosity of this immensely important period in history, as well as inspiring and encouraging me to do more research on my own family history, which shares many similarities with the author’s.

Utterly fascinating from a historical and cultural point of view, while the human stories of struggle are both heart-rending and inspirational. “The Family” is without question a must-read!

Rating: 4 stars


I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.



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