September 19, 2014
In an interview with John Wilkens of the San Diego Union-Tribune, author David Laskin talks about his book The Family: A Journey Through the Heart of the Twentieth Century. As a historian he traced several branches of his family tree, through tragedy and triumph, from the Holocaust to the modern state of Israel. A third branch formed Maidenform Brands here in the U.S. Laskin’s comments about his undertaking are relevant to everyone with an interest in the lives of their ancestors. I quote some of them here.
Why he writes historical non-fiction:
“To me, it’s the most vivid and exciting and accessible doorway into the past. When you read, let’s say, a history of immigration to the U.S. through Ellis Island or an account of the settlement of Israel, you get the facts, you get the atmosphere, you get the economic basis. When you read about people’s lives and their struggles and their dreams and their heartbreak, you really live the past.”
What he learned about himself:
“I learned that I have a lot more in common with my family than I ever thought… It’s funny in some ways that I’ve done this book because I was never very family-minded growing up. I found many family occasions quite excruciating.”
“I feel in many ways I am carrying on some of the family traditions… writing, recording, keeping the written word, keeping the family annals going.”
Why he admires his ancestors:
“I think everybody says this who looks back at their immigrant ancestors or their pioneer ancestors or their war hero or war grunt ancestors – my God, the courage, the stamina, the ability to withstand hardship.”
How he hopes to inspire others:
“My dream is that when people close my book, the next thing they do is go on ancestry.com or familysearch.com and start looking for their own family stories. Beyond that, to plumb and to research and to analyze their family ties to history. To connect the dots for themselves.”
And if you’re a “mad, crazy researcher” like Laskin, “you can find out a lot.”
For more of David Laskin’s perspective, the complete interview is here.
For the book itself, described as beautifully written, densely textured, and at times heartbreaking, visit davidlaskin.com.