cover image What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past

What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past

Nancy K. Miller. Univ. of Nebraska, $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8032-3001-9

Miller, professor of English and comparative literature at CUNY's Graduate Center, traces the history of her father Louis's family, to solve the mystery of why, when Louis's older brother, Sam, moved to Arizona in 1934, the two brothers largely lost contact and never met again. Beginning with photographs, scrapbooks, and other mementos and documents, Miller also interviews family members in Memphis, Phoenix, and Israel. She travels twice to Kishinev, in Moldova, scene of an infamous 1903 pogrom, to better understand the world of her paternal grandparents. While Miller never solves the mystery of her father and uncle's separation, she learns fascinating details about her extended paternal family, including the existence of previously unknown relatives, and their reportedly non-Zionist grandmother's purchase of a parcel of land in 1920s Palestine. Miller also has many acute observations about the sometimes enlightening, often frustrating nature of such a quest (e.g., "The lure of the puzzle, the enigma of lineage,... is not so easily resisted"). Miller (Bequest and Betrayal: Memories of a Parent's Death) writes thoughtfully about her efforts to piece together a family's story of dislocation, success, and broken links, and of how, in the process, Miller reconnected with Jewish history and traditions. 25 illus. (Sept.)