Personal Stories of Genealogy and Family History

Hadley Freeman uncovers family secrets. Alex Halberstadt explores genealogical roots.

Freeman, Hadley. House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family. S. & S. Mar. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781501199158. $26. BIOG
Freeman (Life Moves Pretty Fast) presents a portrait of the Jewish experience in the 20th century through her family’s remarkable story. Growing up, Freeman’s parents rarely talked about their family’s past. Only vague details were known about her relatives in France, as well as her grandmother who relocated years earlier to the United States because of “the war.” In an effort to learn about her family, she decided to write about her late grandmother’s passion for fashion and art. Her grandmother’s former apartment was now occupied by a family who didn’t throw anything away, which led to Freeman’s discovery of a shoebox filled with clues to her family’s secretive past: photographs, some with faces scratched away; a note about the Glass family hiding in Paris under an assumed name; and photographs of and a sketch by Pablo Picasso. These uncovered artifacts would lead Freeman on an extraordinary journey of family and self-discovery. ­
VERDICT A timely exploration of family secrets, immigration, and anti-Semitism, this work will appeal to readers of World War II–era history.—David Miller, Farmville P.L., NC

redstarHalberstadt, Alex. Young Heroes of the Soviet Union: A Memoir and a Reckoning. Random. Mar. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781400067060. $28. BIOG
In the ultimate act of self-retrospection, Halberstadt ( Lonely Avenue) investigates his identity by traveling to Russia, his country of birth, to interview family and document the horrifying effects of the world wars. When the author learns that his grandfather is alive, but ostracized because of “unmentionable things” committed as a personal bodyguard of Joseph Stalin, Haberstadt develops a project to uncover secret histories and their reverberation through the generations. Traveling through Russia and Lithuania, Halberstadt visits his father, grandparents, and other distant relatives. The history of Jewish relatives in Lithuania suffering waves of pogroms is contrasted against his paternal grandfather’s conscription into the Soviet army and service for Stalin. Such a personal history stands apart from other titles because, although the journey is framed as a family narrative, historically detailed episodes are impressively illuminated. Particularly commendable is the archival research on Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.
VERDICT An impeccably executed and unique genealogy that encourages us to examine the history that informs us of who we are.—Jessica Bushore, Xenia, OH

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