Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past

Half-Jew: A Daughter's Search for Her Family's Buried Past

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by Susan Jacoby
     
 

What is a child's emotional legacy when one parent's origins are treated as a shameful secret? This is the provocative question addressed by Susan Jacoby in a probing work of personal memory and social history that excavates four generations of lies and secrets in her father's accomplished but deeply insecure New York German Jewish family.

Blending meticulous

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Overview

What is a child's emotional legacy when one parent's origins are treated as a shameful secret? This is the provocative question addressed by Susan Jacoby in a probing work of personal memory and social history that excavates four generations of lies and secrets in her father's accomplished but deeply insecure New York German Jewish family.

Blending meticulous historical research with compassionate emotional insight, this writer of "fierce intelligence and a nimble, unfettered imagination" (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times) not only reclaims the family's past but also offers a beautifully nuanced close-up of a bond between a father and daughter.

The author knew from early childhood that her father was a Roman Catholic convert but never knew he had been born a Jew. Yet she sensed, growing up Catholic in the 1950s in Michigan, that there were missing pieces in her father's -- and her own -- story.

In search of her family's real history, Jacoby mined New York newspaper and university archives, which yielded a rich cast of characters, beginning in 1849 with the arrival of her great-grandfather from Germany. We meet her tormented grandfather, who built a brilliant legal career in the early 1900s but gambled away a fortune and died a cocaine addict in 1931; her great-uncle Harold, a distinguished astronomer whose map of the constellations still shines brightly on the ceiling of New York's Grand Central Terminal; and her beloved uncle Ozzie, the famous bridge champion Oswald Jacoby.

Half-Jew breaks new ground by exploring the link between personal shame -- the gambling compulsion that haunted four generations of Jacoby men -- and the social shame that impelled an entire family to deny its Jewishness. With unflinching honesty, and in tender but unsentimental prose, Susan Jacoby explores the damage inflicted by intimate lies and the rich opportunities for repair when a parent and an adult child face long-buried truths.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this poignant mix of family history and memoir, journalist Jacoby (Wild Justice) unravels the thick fabric of lies that her father, Robert, wove around his past. Raised in a happy Catholic home, Jacoby was in her early 20s when she learned that Robert had been born a Jew. Her surprise intensified when she found out that Robert's brother and sister had also married Catholics and converted. What, she wondered, had caused such a dramatic rupture in the family's history? What emerges from Jacoby's research is not only an account of family estrangement and denial but a social history of anti-Semitism and Jewish acculturation in the U.S. over the last century and a half, beginning with the arrival of the author's German-Jewish great-grandfather in the mid 19th century. Jacoby presents some finely crafted portraits: her grandfather Oswald, a brilliant young lawyer whose career dissolved under the pressure of a gambling addiction; Edith, Oswald's chilly, critical wife; Oswald's brother, Harold, a noted astronomer at Columbia University; Uncle Ozzie, Robert's brother, an admittedly self-centered world-class bridge champion; and Robert himself, a loving father who nevertheless almost ruined his family with his own gambling problem. Jacoby tells how Robert was taunted as a "baby Jew-boy" during his years in a Brooklyn public school and of the two years he spent at Dartmouth at a time when the admissions director believed the college had too many of "the chosen and the heathen." Jacoby's intelligent and compassionate probing extends to her own prolonged process of learning to accept herself as a "half-Jew." This is a moving tribute to her father and a vivid portrait of one family's attempt to find its place in America. Agents, Georges and Anne Borchardt. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal - Library Journal
A noted journalist uncovers her Jewish roots. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Internet Book Watch
Half-Jew is Susan Jacoby's impressive, highly recommended family history in which she shares a meticulous historical research into the suppressed Judaic roots of her personal genealogy. In these pages, Susan writes with compassion, emotional insight, and candor about her father (who was a Roman Catholic convert) and her own search for ancestral roots that led her to the discovery of her German Jewish grand-grandfather who arrived in American in 1849, her tormented grandfather who built a brilliant legal career in the early 1900s only to gamble it away and die a cocaine addiction in 1941, of her great-uncle Harold, a distinguished astronomy whose map of the constellations still shines up on the ceiling of New York's Grand Central Terminal, and her beloved uncle Oswald Jacoby, a famous bridge champion. Susan also explores the damage inflicted by intimate parental lies, and the rich opportunities for redress when a parent and an adult child face long-buried truths about themselves and who they are.
—Internet Book Watch
James Shapiro
It is impossible not to admire her courage and her dedication to this task. The result is a book of considerable interest not only as a memoir, but also as a detective story and as a social history of assimilation.
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684832500
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
05/05/2000
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.01(d)

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