cover image The House of Twenty Thousand Books

The House of Twenty Thousand Books

Sasha Abramsky. New York Review Books, $27.95 (344p) ISBN 978-1-59017-888-1

Abramsky’s tale begins after his grandfather Chimen’s death, with his family faced with the daunting task of cleaning out a London house filled to bursting with books, many of them rare, on Marxism, socialism, and Judaica. Doing so stirred the desire to make sense of this literary and familial legacy, which Abramsky (The American Way of Poverty) chronicles in a loving but clear-eyed manner. Born in Minsk in 1916, Chimen eventually made his way to London, there pursuing a passion for Communism in defiance of his father, a prominent rabbi. After Chimen married his wife, Miriam, in 1940, the couple ran a Jewish bookstore in the East End. Meanwhile, their house became an intellectual gathering place, the dining room table groaning with Miriam’s food and animated by heated conversation. As a leading expert on Jewish and Socialist texts, Chimen consulted for Sotheby’s, and, late in life, attained long-craved academic recognition by lecturing at University College London. Each room of the house had its own place in the collection, and in the author’s recollections. The result is a fascinating if jumbled blend of history, biography, and memoir that works despite itself—a reflection of the seemingly disordered, cluttered house that contained its own internal order and treasures. 43 b&w photos. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (Sept.)