Cover image for The girl from Human Street : ghosts of memory in a Jewish family
Title:
The girl from Human Street : ghosts of memory in a Jewish family
Author:
Cohen, Roger, author.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.
Physical Description:
304 pages : illustrations, genealogical table ; 25 cm
Summary:
Award-winning New York Times columnist Roger Cohen turns a compassionate yet discerning eye on the legacy of his own forebears. As he follows them across continents and decades, mapping individual lives that diverge and intertwine, vital patterns of struggle and resilience, valued heritage and evolving loyalties (religious, ethnic, national), converge into a resonant portrait of cultural identity in the modern age. Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through to the present day, Cohen tracks his family's story of repeated upheaval, from Lithuania to South Africa, and then to England, the United States, and Israel. It is a tale of otherness marked by overt and latent anti-Semitism, but also otherness as a sense of inheritance. We see Cohen's family members grow roots in each adopted homeland even as they struggle to overcome the loss of what is left behind and to adapt. At the heart of The Girl from Human Street is the powerful and touching relationship between Cohen and his mother, that "girl." Tortured by the upheavals in her life yet stoic in her struggle, she embodies her son's complex inheritance.--From publisher description.
Language:
English
Contents:
Circle of disquiet -- Bones in the forest -- Gin and two -- In the barrel -- Château Michel -- Picnic in a cemetery -- Patient number 9413 -- Jews in a whisper -- Madness in the brain -- The lark sings and falls -- Death in the Holy Land -- The ghosts of repetition -- A single chain.
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780307594662
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library DS135.L53 C54 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Popular Materials-Biography
Searching...
Clearfield Library DS135.L53 C54 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Searching...
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library DS135.L53 C54 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
Searching...
Audubon Library DS135.L53 C54 2015 Adult Fiction-New 21-Day Item Biography
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

An intimate and profoundly moving Jewish family history--a story of displacement, prejudice, hope, despair, and love.

In this luminous memoir, award-winning New York Times columnist Roger Cohen turns a compassionate yet discerning eye on the legacy of his own forebears. As he follows them across continents and decades, mapping individual lives that diverge and intertwine, vital patterns of struggle and resilience, valued heritage and evolving loyalties (religious, ethnic, national), converge into a resonant portrait of cultural identity in the modern age.

Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through to the present day, Cohen tracks his family's story of repeated upheaval, from Lithuania to South Africa, and then to England, the United States, and Israel. It is a tale of otherness marked by overt and latent anti-Semitism, but also otherness as a sense of inheritance. We see Cohen's family members grow roots in each adopted homeland even as they struggle to overcome the loss of what is left behind and to adapt--to the racism his parents witness in apartheid-era South Africa, to the familiar ostracism an uncle from Johannesburg faces after fighting against Hitler across Europe, to the ambivalence an Israeli cousin experiences when tasked with policing the occupied West Bank.
At the heart of The Girl from Human Street is the powerful and touching relationship between Cohen and his mother, that "girl." Tortured by the upheavals in her life yet stoic in her struggle, she embodies her son's complex inheritance.

Graceful, honest, and sweeping, Cohen's remarkable chronicle of the quest for belonging across generations contributes an important chapter to the ongoing narrative of Jewish life.


Author Notes

ROGER COHEN is a columnist for  The New York Times , where he has worked since 1990: as a correspondent in Paris and Berlin, and as bureau chief in the Balkans covering the Bosnian war (for which he received an Overseas Press Club prize). He was named a columnist in 2009. He became foreign editor on 9/11, overseeing Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage in the aftermath of the attack. His columns appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. His previous books include Soldiers and Slaves  and  Hearts Grown Brutal . He lives in London.

@NYTimesCohen


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sit on the fence and people get killed behind it. The many readers of New York Times columnist Cohen will recognize the plain talk and passionate commitment, as well as the insightful, sometimes controversial commentary on crucial contemporary issues. And the wit. Rooted in his extended family's immigration story, especially that of his mother (who, moved from South Africa to London, became mentally ill, and attempted suicide in 1978), he addresses here the role of Jews in twentieth-century history, from Eastern Europe to South Africa to Britain to Israel. Never simplistic, he acknowledges that under apartheid most Jews looked on and kept quiet. As a child, he heard it Thank God for the blacks. If not for them, it would be us even as he points out the strong Jewish role in anti-apartheid resistance. Later, in Israel, his immigrant family split over the Occupation. Sure to spark debate, the often-painful immigration story stays with you, about then and now: As a child, trust was a stranger . . . . I had to look both ways. --Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In a lyrical, digressive tracking of mental illness in his far-flung family, New York Times columnist Cohen (Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis Final Gamble) explores the tentacles of repressed memory in Jewish identity. Cohen's grandparents on both sides came from Lithuanian shtetls and migrated at the end of the 19th century to South Africa. From modest beginnings as grocers and roving peddlers, they gradually prospered as business leaders and professionals in Johannesburg, far from the calamity of Nazi Germany. Cohen's father, a doctor in Krugersdorp, settled in London after WWII, bringing his South African wife, June, née Adler; assimilation was the rule of the day, and the horrors of Auschwitz were not discussed. "Better to look forward, work hard, say little," Cohen, born in the mid-1950s, writes. Paralyzing depression dogged his mother, requiring hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy, and she made several suicide attempts over the years. Her manic depression was shared by other members of the family, which Cohen traces to being "tied to... a Jewish odyssey of the 20th century, and the tremendous pressure of wandering, adapting, pretending, silencing, and forgetting." Cohen writes eloquently of the great looming irony of apartheid for the once similarly persecuted, now privileged Jews of South African, as well as the divisive oppression in Israel. Thoughtful, wide-ranging, he muses on his own migrations spurred by "buried truths." (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Journalist Cohen (New York Times; Soldiers and Slaves) presents a sprawling, multifaceted memoir that delves deeply into his family history, his mother's struggle with mental illness, and broader issues of Jewish identity, history, culture, and belonging within a wider diaspora. With his mother, June, firmly at the center of his tale, the author ably weaves disparate threads of his ancestors' stories, tracing their paths from Lithuania to apartheid-era South Africa, and eventually his family's settlement in England, where June's bipolar disorder emerged. VERDICT Cohen's nonchronological structure, sometimes elusive prose, and tendency to circle back to topics may challenge some readers. However, his creative approach to the genre form, deeply considered views, and candor will yield poignant rewards for thoughtful memoir fans interested in Jewish history, the modern Jewish experience, issues of displacement and immigration, or family struggles to cope with mental illness. Readers interested in Jewish immigration narratives may also consider Lucette Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/14.]-Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

On May 7, 1945, my uncle, Capt. Bert Cohen of the Dental Unit of the Sixth South African Armored Division, Nineteenth Field Ambulance, made the following entry in his war diary: After lunch Hilton Barber lent me his jeep and I scudded away on a delightful jaunt. We traveled through twisting country byways until the town of Monza. There we followed route 36 northward to Lecco. As we bypassed the town we got our first view of the famous Alpine lakes . . . an azure strip of unbelievable blue flanked by great mountains. . . . We passed through several icy tunnels and the beauty of the scene grew more breathtaking as we neared Bellagio, a wonderful village nestling in the fork of the lake beneath the majestic mountains. . . . A drove of little boys clambered onto the jeep, an incredible number appeared from all over the place. At one stage Wilson counted 21 of them on the jeep. Bellagio was indeed delightful. It was while there that we heard that the war was over, a report that was subsequently verified as we drove on down Lake Como to Como. . . . All along the road from Bellagio throngs had lined each village street and flowers in profusion had been tossed into the jeep. So, in Bellagio, right here, feted by children and flowers, my uncle's war ended. "GUERRA FINITA!!!"--­"WAR OVER!!!"--­he exulted in his diary. He was twenty-­six and far from home. As a young dentistry graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand, he had enlisted in Johannesburg on January 15, 1943. After training, he flew by stages to Egypt to join the Allies' North African campaign. From there, in April 1944, he embarked for Italy, on the lowest deck, landing in Taranto, near the heel of Italy's boot. Churchill had called Italy "the soft underbelly of the Axis," but resistance to the Allied assault was stern. Bert's progress northward through Naples, Rome, and Florence to Bellagio was no sunlit Italian passeggiata. The winter of 1944 was spent encamped high in the freezing Apennines facing a German line stretching across the country from Pisa to Rimini. He filled teeth in freezing, improvised dental surgeries. Bert had to battle through the German lines. At Finale Emilia, north of Modena, on April 24, 1945, he was ordered into a bend in the Penaro River where a Nazi column was trapped. Skiet gemors--­Shoot the garbage--­was a rough guide to his Afrikaner com­mander's battle code. An artillery battery pulverized the enclave. Wrecked vehicles smoldered. Wounded horses, nostrils flared in gasping horror, bayed--­a terrible sound. In the carnage, ammunition exploded and tires burst. The stench of roasted flesh and putrefaction pervaded the air. Intestines of gutted animals ballooned from their carcasses. A squad of South African infantry marched through the ruins, bringing a bullet of mercy to animals that still agonized. One dead German in particular caught Bert's eye: a blond, square-­jawed young man with a long straight nose, hair flecked with blood and smoke, legs twisted grotesquely, abdomen ripped open, coils of gut spilling through a ragged gash into the dust, sightless blue eyes gazing at infinity. Beside the corpse lay scattered letters from the soldier's mother in Hamburg. She wrote about Der Angriff, the Allied bombardment of the city that killed more than 42,000 people. Uncertain what to do, Bert returned the letters to the dead man's pocket before grabbing a few ampoules of morphine found in an abandoned, ammunition-­filled German ambulance. That single German corpse among the more than 600,000 casualties of the Italian campaign haunted my uncle for the rest of his life. Bert dwelt on him as if this death were his responsibility, or as if he, a Jew from South Africa, might somehow have brought this handsome young man, Hitler's model Aryan, back to the life denied him. The dead man inhabited his dreams. Bert thought that he should have kept the letters, for some reason, perhaps to return them to a bereaved mother in Hamburg. He was a link in a circle that never closed. Bellagio also marked him. He returned four days after his first visit, on May 11, 1945, and was billeted for a week in the magnificent Villa Gerly, on the banks of the lake. His diary records a lunch that day at Silvio's restaurant. "We lunched sumptuously on fresh trout and fresh butter," Bert wrote. "Such food was so novel and so exciting to our palates long jaded by M and V that I for one ate far too much." Canned meat and vegetables (M and V), tasting of neither, were the staple military diet. After lunch Bert dozed off on the grass, a siesta troubled only by ants. In the late afternoon he decided to go for a swim: We rowed out into the middle of the lake and there I plunged in. The water was icy cold a few feet below the surface. About halfway I realized I had overestimated my swimming ability and underestimated the distance. The swim turned into a horrifying ordeal. I was fighting panic, not with complete success. It is one thing to be able to take a grip if you can stop and weigh up the situation but quite another if you can't stop to collect your calm. I couldn't stop. It would have been better to have doggy paddled and relaxed but driving panic made my haste frantic. I was exhausted when I reached the shore. My heart was pounding and my head was bursting with pain. It was quite the most unnerving and terrifying experience I have had since I left home. In this way, four days after the end of the war, Captain Cohen almost lost his life in Bellagio. He would have gone out in a sumptuous manner, after a lunch of delicious fish, in the midst of a beautiful lake, beneath the mountains, a few hundred yards from the Punto Spartivento. It is a good thing, however, that he did not encounter a watery North Italian grave. What a waste, people would have said, to die when the war was over. As if the war being over made any difference to the waste and the grief. The thing about life's chains, and the lines of memory that eddy along them, is you never know when they may get broken--­in a mountainous trench, on a bend in the river, or three hundred meters down in a sunlit lake after a good lunch celebrating peace. Excerpted from The Girl from Human Street by Roger Cohen. Copyright © 2015 by Roger Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpted from The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family by Roger Cohen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Family Treep. x
Chapter 1 Circle of Disquietp. 3
Chapter 2 Bones in the Forestp. 30
Chapter 3 Gin and Twop. 46
Chapter 4 In the Barrelp. 73
Chapter 5 Chateau Michelp. 96
Chapter 6 Picnic in a Cemeteryp. 123
Chapter 7 Patient Number 9413p. 138
Chapter 8 Jews in a Whisperp. 157
Chapter 9 Madness in the Brainp. 177
Chapter 10 The Lark Sings and Fallsp. 204
Chapter 11 Death in the Holy Landp. 223
Chapter 12 The Ghosts of Repetitionp. 245
Chapter 13 A Single Chainp. 257
Acknowledgmentsp. 281
Notesp. 285
Indexp. 293

Google Preview