Finding My Father: His Century-Long Journey from World War I Warsaw and My Quest To Follow

Ballantine. Sept. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781101885833. $28. BIOG
In this latest work, Tannen (linguistics, Georgetown Univ.; You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation) deviates from her usual linguistic focus to the more personal subject of her own family and the father she adored. Tannen wrote this memoir after years of faithfully compiling memories gleaned from the journals of her father, Eli Tannen, as well as collecting talks and recorded conversations between her and her father over an extended period of time. Tannen reflects on developing a love of writing, language, and literature because of her father’s influence. She also considers what it means to be Jewish in the United States, and to be descended from Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jewish communities in Europe. Chapters on Eli’s childhood in the Hasidic Jewish section of Warsaw in the early 1900s are as fascinating as the impressive recollections of his aunts and uncles, who add further context to family memories. While segments on Eli’s personal and intimate life feel oddly tangential in the scheme of the overall narrative, early chapters provide historical context and valuable insight into Jewish lives during the height of Nazi Germany.
VERDICT An uneven biography, but a worthy addition to World War II and Holocaust memoirs.
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