Cover image for Their promised land : my grandparents in love and war
Title:
Their promised land : my grandparents in love and war
Author:
Buruma, Ian.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Penguin Press, [2016]
Physical Description:
305 pages : illustrations, map ; 22 cm
Summary:
"A family history of surpassing beauty and power: Ian Buruma's account of his grandparents' enduring love through the terror and separation of two world wars. During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma's grandparents, and the film director John Schlesinger's parents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other. Their only recourse was to write letters back and forth. And write they did, often every day. In a way they were just picking up where they left off in 1918, at the end of their first long separation because of the Great War that swept Bernard away to some of Europe's bloodiest battlefields. The thousands of letters between them were part of an inheritance that ultimately came into the hands of their grandson, Ian Buruma. Now, in a labor of love that is also a powerful act of artistic creation, Ian Buruma has woven his own voice in with theirs to provide the context and counterpoint necessary to bring to life, not just a remarkable marriage, but a class, and an age. Winifred and Bernard inherited the high European cultural ideals and attitudes that came of being born into prosperous German-Jewish emigre families. To young Ian, who would visit from Holland every Christmas, they seemed the very essence of England, their spacious Berkshire estate the model of genteel English country life at its most pleasant and refined. It wasn't until years later that he discovered how much more there was to the story. At its heart, Their Promised Land is the story of cultural assimilation. The Schlesingers were very British in the way their relatives in Germany were very German, until Hitler destroyed that option. The problems of being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism even in the country they loved were met with a kind of stoic discretion. But they showed solidarity when it mattered most. As the shadows of war lengthened again, the Schlesingers mounted a remarkable effort, which Ian Buruma describes movingly, to rescue twelve Jewish children from the Nazis and see to their upkeep in England. Many are the books that do bad marriages justice; precious few books take readers inside a good marriage. In Their Promised Land, Buruma has done just that; introducing us to a couple whose love was sustaining through the darkest hours of the century"--
General Note:
Includes index.
Language:
English
Contents:
Don't Like the Name -- First Love -- Going to War -- The Long Wait -- Safe Haven -- The Beginning -- The End of the Beginning -- Empire -- The Beginning of the End -- The End -- Epitaph.
ISBN:
9781594204388
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

A family history of surpassing beauty and power: Ian Buruma's account of his grandparents' enduring love through the terror and separation of two world wars

During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma's grandparents, and the film director John Schlesinger's parents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other. Their only recourse was to write letters back and forth. And write they did, often every day. In a way they were just picking up where they left off in 1918, at the end of their first long separation because of the Great War that swept Bernard away to some of Europe's bloodiest battlefields. The thousands of letters between them were part of an inheritance that ultimately came into the hands of their grandson, Ian Buruma. Now, in a labor of love that is also a powerful act of artistic creation, Ian Buruma has woven his own voice in with theirs to provide the context and counterpoint necessary to bring to life, not just a remarkable marriage, but a class, and an age.

Winifred and Bernard inherited the high European cultural ideals and attitudes that came of being born into prosperous German-Jewish émigré families. To young Ian, who would visit from Holland every Christmas, they seemed the very essence of England, their spacious Berkshire estate the model of genteel English country life at its most pleasant and refined. It wasn't until years later that he discovered how much more there was to the story.

At its heart, Their Promised Land is the story of cultural assimilation. The Schlesingers were very British in the way their relatives in Germany were very German, until Hitler destroyed that option. The problems of being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism even in the country they loved were met with a kind of stoic discretion. But they showed solidarity when it mattered most. As the shadows of war lengthened again, the Schlesingers mounted a remarkable effort, which Ian Buruma describes movingly, to rescue twelve Jewish children from the Nazis and see to their upkeep in England.

Many are the books that do bad marriages justice; precious few books take readers inside a good marriage. In Their Promised Land , Buruma has done just that; introducing us to a couple whose love was sustaining through the darkest hours of the century.

Look for Ian's new book, A Tokyo Romance , in March, 2018.


Author Notes

Ian Buruma is the Paul W. Williams Professor at Bard College. His previous books include Year Zero , The China Lover , Murder in Amsterdam , Occidentalism , God's Dust , Behind the Mask , The Wages of Guilt , Bad Elements , and Taming the Gods . His newest book, A Tokyo Romance , will be on sale 3/6/2018.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The war in the subtitle includes both WWI and WWII, during which the acclaimed author's grandparents, wealthy Jewish immigrants from Germany, were respectively in England (grandmother Winifred) or mostly fighting in the war or serving as a physician elsewhere in the world, primarily India (grandfather Bernard Bun Schlesinger). The love that Winnifred and Bun shared was a strong and singular one. Thus, the book is a fascinating and memorable personal family story. Buruma has touched on these themes before: Year Zero: A History of 1945 recounted his father's experience as a prisoner of the Nazis. Just when the narrative is in danger of slipping into very proper British sentimentality, we are told of Win and Bun saving (before Kristallnacht) a dozen children from the Nazis. The outsider role of Jews even in postwar Britain (Buruma's family uses the code word 45 to refer to them) is central to this stirring memoir.--Levine, Mark Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Buruma (Year Zero: A History of 1945) delivers a moving, intimate portrait of his grandparents, Bernard and Winifred "Win" Schlesinger (the parents of film director John Schlesinger, of Midnight Cowboy fame), through a close reading of their correspondence from 1915 to 1945. In a fluid, novelistic narrative, Buruma not only captures a remarkable marriage, but also a particular segment of English society-assimilated, upper-middle-class Jews. He shows his grandparents as "outsiders who were insiders too," whose enthusiastic embrace of English culture, if seemingly excessive at times, reflected gratitude that England, unlike their parents' birthplace of Germany, didn't betray its Jewish citizens. The excerpted letters depict Bernard and Win during their first courtship, interrupted by his service in France in WWI; during her days at Cambridge and his at Oxford; and during their later separation during WWII, when Win saw how life carried on as usual in London even as England's fate "was being decided in the skies," and Bernard, an Army doctor, witnessed the Empire's waning days in India. Buruma depicts his grandparents "with all their doubts and contradictions" as well as their "generosity of spirit," which extended to their rescue of 12 Jewish children from Nazi Germany-and hosting two German POWs for Christmas in 1946. This illuminating story of cultural assimilation and identity will resonate with many readers. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

While novelist and scholar Buruma (human rights, Bard Coll.; Year Zero) is no stranger to studies of early and mid-20th-century history, this work hits a bit closer to home for him. In it, he details the relationship of his grandparents-both English Jews with German heritage-through letters and photographs, from the time they met just before World War I until the end of World War II. Buruma gives the missives depth and context by conveying events of the time, as well as sociocultural concerns of those of Jewish faith who longed to be accepted in English society and had to decide how to assimilate. The correspondence reveals a beautiful and complex love story that lasted through triumphs and disasters, years of separation, anti-Semitic microaggressions, and social and family pressures. VERDICT Buruma's work is well-paced, absorbing, and gives a human face to some of the darkest eras of contemporary European history. Readers interested in biography, Judaism, social history, European history, the history of both World Wars, and/or a good old-fashioned love story will find much here to appreciate. [See Prepub Alert, 7/13/15.]-Crystal -Goldman, Univ. of California, San Diego Lib. © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Don't like the Namep. 1
1 First Lovep. 23
2 Going to Warp. 51
3 The Long Waitp. 77
4 Safe Havenp. 115
5 The Beginningp. 153
6 The End of the Beginningp. 183
7 Empirep. 209
8 The Beginning of the Endp. 243
9 The Endp. 267
Epitaphp. 287
Acknowledgmentsp. 293
Indexp. 295