cover image An Echo in My Blood: The Search for My Family's Hidden Past

An Echo in My Blood: The Search for My Family's Hidden Past

Alan Weisman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $25 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100291-7

For the children of Jewish immigrants who arrived in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century, growing up American was both a fortune and a curse. A childhood free from pogroms and persecution came at the cost of a severed genealogy. Forced identity changes, destroyed documents and a reluctance to record the travails of the old country often left first-generation American Jews ignorant of their most immediate family history. Weisman (Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World), a world-traveled journalist and the son of Ukrainian Jews who fled the massacres of the Russian Civil War in 1923, began his research while on assignment in Chernobyl. This book is his effort to come to terms with the disparity between his own privileged life and his father's struggle to make his name in a new country. Weisman weaves his childhood memories with the received stories of his many aunts and uncles. He then tackles the veracity of what he calls ""congenital truths"" by returning to his father's birthplace of Mala Viska, a small village between Kiev and Odessa, where he tries to fill the gaps in his family's clouded history. Weisman's narrative sometimes risks becoming monotonous, as segments are weighed down by excessive detail and incongruous discourses on his research into environmental hazards in South America and an unlucky romance with an Argentine woman who shares his family name. But Weisman has a gift for language, and his personal search for family and identity will move anyone who recognizes the universality of love, loss and humanity. (Oct.)