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Books | The Guardian ([info]theguardianbook) wrote,
@ 2020-02-25 08:30:00

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House of Glass by Hadley Freeman review – flight and fight of a Jewish family

Hadley Freeman’s gripping family biography of persecution and escape offers lessons for our own time

Deep inside her paternal grandmother’s closet, behind the leather handbags, the elegant dresses wrapped in dry-cleaner plastic, all giving off a whiff of Guerlain face powder mixed with Chanel perfume, the Guardian writer Hadley Freeman discovered a shoebox covered in years of dust. Its contents deflected her from the fashion piece she had been intending to write about her unsettling, melancholic French grandmother, now dead for some 10 years, and ever out of place in the America where they all lived. Instead, the photos, documents and mysterious fragments the shoebox contained set her off on a quest. It grew into a capacious family story that moves from Poland to France to America and brings to vivid life some of the worst, and perhaps also finest, moments of the 20th century.

Freeman is a determined and eloquent detective. She sifts records, has translations of documents done and travels often with her father to the sites of ancestral life. Above all, she is a splendid creator of character. As she roots around in a past that moves from persecution and the extreme poverty of a Jewish family in the southwestern corner of Poland, to interwar immigrant life in the then unglamorous Marais district of Paris, to the turbulence and death of the war years and beyond, the members of her great and grandparental family take on memorable individuality. What is fascinating to note is that it is some of the forebears she likes least who emerge as distinct heroes.

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