Tag Archives: american history

The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century

thefamilythree The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, by David Laskin, brings the reader a compelling look at the choices we make, and how those choices affect our lives, and the lives of our family members.

From the Russia Empire, Israel and America, the journeys taken are cohesively written, with word-imagery that fills all of the senses. The reader garners glimpses into the past that combine social, ethnic and familial aspects.

From revolution and war, striving to survive under extremely harsh and horrific conditions, emigrating and assimilating, the details depicted are written brilliantly. Laskin’s arduous research shines through the pages. It is not just his family’s story, but everyone’s story, everyone interested in history.

The Russian Revolution, and how it affected Laskin’s family, is described in minute detail, with nothing left to the imagination. The struggles to begin anew in a harsh desert land is so descriptive, I could see the environment before my eyes. I could feel the intensity of the heat, and the wind blowing sand everywhere.

The family’s assimilation into American life is told masterfully, illuminating their struggles to earn a living, cope, and be seen as a part of the whole. Learning to act like American was not an easy task, from dress to speech to mannerisms, it took effort to be accepted. It took perseverance and determination to be successful.

One family member was so successful, and as a female in a world of male business professionals, she outshone them. the author’s Aunt Itel knew she was the best at what she did. She was confident and was able to achieve what others dream of. Her strength and fortitude led her to found the Maidenform Bra Company. Who would have thought that in 1922 this was possible!

World War II had a major impact on Laskin’s family. The events are tragic, and affected family members in ways that one would not expect.

There were times I caught myself teary-eyed through Laskin’s beautiful prose. His sensitivity to the subject matter was most definitely apparent to me. Yet, through the sensitivity, his forthrightness leaves the reader cognizant of events that they might not have otherwise been aware of. What an amazing writer and what an amazing story! The family/ancestral history is a wonderful tribute to those whose lives came before the author, David Laskin. Just as important are the profound historical facts depicted within the pages.

The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, by David Laskin,is a book of extreme historical importance, in my opinion. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Book Diva Review: Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

book of ages Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore is an ambitious effort to bring the reader information regarding the life of Jane Franklin, sister of Benjamin Franklin.

She succeeds in some areas, and in other areas I felt that she was lacking. Perhaps, lacking is not the way to articulate my thoughts and feelings. I felt that Jane Mecom’s story was overshadowed by her brother’s life and his deeds.

Jane Mecom was a very devoted wife and devoted sister. She was the mother of twelve children, twelve being the total of children she had, but she lost several of them. She also was a grandmother and great-grandmother. She never strayed from home while bringing up her children. It was not until her husband died that she finally left the house, and from that moment on, she began traveling here and there, sometimes for pleasure, sometimes for other purposes.

Once her youngest child left the house, she enjoyed an incredible amount of freedom, freedom she had never known. And, she rather enjoyed it, even sharing in her writings that it was nice to see her grandchildren, but also nice that they left, or that she could leave their homes, and be left alone, again. Her solitude was precious to her.

Through Jane’s sparse letters, documents, and the many letters of Benjamin Franklin, we are privy to a loving brother/sister relationship. We are also given insightful information on the American Revolution and other events in the history of the time period. Book of Ages is not a biography or a memoir, but more of a historical documentation of the times, bringing forth social aspects, political aspects, and aspects of daily living within the realm and environment of Jane’s life, and the lives of those around her.

Some of the chronology is not exacting, and I felt that Lepore loosely dealt with issues and with words that she implied were written or uttered by Jane Mecom.

I would have been more pleased if there had been more reflection and information regarding Jane, herself, rather that the overly abundant amount of information regarding Benjamin Franklin. I understand that Benjamin Franklin was an important force in America and overseas. Yet, the title of the book does not exactly produce the information regarding Jane within the pages, as this reader presumed it would. Book of Ages, I came to find out, was the title of a document that Jane Mecom wrote. It was a chronology of the births and deaths of her family members.

I would have liked to learn more about this woman who struggled, who lived in poverty, who birthed so many children, who lost so many of them, who did not leave the town she lived in until the last child left the house, and who seemingly led a life of toil and isolation. There must have been more in her life Lepore could have written about, other than the reader being exposed to more information regarding Benjamin Franklin and the events he was involved in.

I was fascinated by Jane Mecom’s responses to her brother’s letters. I was surprised by her bad choice of a husband. She married young and married a man who was not a good provider. At one point he ended up in debtor’s prison. She was in a constant state of caring for the children and household, trying to manage the little finances she had, and her own needs came last. This is typical of the times, when women were not considered to be of value. The stark difference between her and her brother is quite sharply written. He lived prosperously, she lived in poverty. He was well-known and respected, she was more or less isolated, he had freedom, she had the house to manage. Possibly, this was the point Lepore was trying to make. I don’t know.

I liked The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, but yet felt a bit of disappointment in it. The overshadowing of events and overshadowing of Jane Franklin’s brother, and his life taking precedent, in my opinion, left me wanting more regarding Jane Mecom.

I would rate The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin a 3.5, with 5 being the highest.

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Book Diva Review – Orphan Train

orphantrain Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was quite the historical novel. I had never heard of the term “orphan train” (and I have a few decades behind me), and found out through reading the novel that it was a factual event in American history.

According to Wikipedia: “The Orphan Train Movement was a welfare program that transported children from crowded cities of the United States, such as New York City and Boston, to willing foster homes across the country. The orphan trains ran between 1853 and 1929, relocating an estimated 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children. At the time the orphan train movement began, reformers estimated that 30,000 vagrant children were living on the streets of New York City.”

I was quite shocked to realize that not only was the novel based on actual incidents, but also shocked at the extent of the movement.

The novel has two main characters, 17-year old Molly Ayer and 91-year old Vivian Daly. Molly is in the foster care system, living with a family that is torn regarding her. Her foster father likes her, her foster mother can’t tolerate her, she is in it for the monthly income they get for caring for Molly. They come together under unusual circumstances. Molly is fulfilling community service to keep her out of juvenile hall by helping Vivian clean out her attic of decades of boxes and collected items.

When Molly first encounters Vivian, she is an obnoxious teenager, and has to hold her tongue in check in order to remain somewhat civil towards Vivian. Vivian feels a sense of an underlying anger within Molly’s soul. During Molly’s time helping Vivian, she begins to soften her attitude due to the stories that Vivian relays to her, regarding her life during her childhood. Molly has her own stories to tell, and tell them to Vivian, she does.

Through the two of them opening boxes, looking over mementos, clothes and other items, they become emotionally attached to each other. With each item that is uncovered there is one that Vivian reflects upon, and the story is relayed to Molly. It seems the two of them are more alike than either of the imagined.

Molly, begins to see the world differently, with a more realistic viewpoint, and with a deeper understanding of who she is in the scheme of things.

I felt the characters were extremely realized, and were believable. I was fascinated, and also saddened, by the events regarding the orphan train. Many of the children were farmed out, literally, to live on farms where they were mistreated and used for labor purposes. It was an eye-opener, and after I finished reading it, I began to wonder how I had never heard of it. The movement began in New York City, run by Catholic Charities. I don’t remember it being taught in school, and I was schooled on Long Island, New York.

The story is written with sensitivity, but also with truth, blended together in a brilliant story line. Youth and aging co-exist in a lovely story, and one that could have occurred, as far as Molly and Vivian’s relationship. The writing was vividly detailed, and scenes seemed so realistic, I could visualize them happening.


Christina Baker Kline
certainly did her research, and her writing displays it. I highly recommend Orphan Train to everyone! It was a book that is historically important, even though it is a novel. It is a book that I couldn’t put down until I finished it.

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Book Diva Review: Saving Monticello

savingmonticello2 Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built, by Marc Leepson, is an extremely fascinating book.

From the first page until the last page, I was completely engrossed with the drama presented within the pages. I found it difficult to put down, during the moments that I had to. The missing years and missing events concerning Monticello, after Thomas Jefferson’s death, have either been overlooked or not mentioned to any great extent within the chapters of history.

The Levy family basically went unnoticed within the historical context of Monticello, after Jefferson’s death in 1826. If it were not for them, Monticello would not be the historical landmark it is today. The family were Jefferson devotees and admirers. They loved what he stood for, what his ideals were, what he represented to Americans.

When Jefferson died, he died with an extreme amount of debt. This was the determining factor that led his heirs to sell his estate. It was bought by a druggist by the name of James Turner Barclay. During his years of ownership the house fell into disrepair. It went up for sale in 1834, once more, and Uriah Phillips Levy, a Jewish-American, purchased it. He was wealthy, and was a United States Navy Lieutenant. He began to repair the estate out of his own money. He spared no expense in order to retain the architectural integrity of Monticello, and keep it in its original state. That lasted until the Civil War when it landed up in the hands of the Confederacy.

Once the war ended, Uriah’s nephew, Jefferson Levy took ownership. He was an unmarried businessman, who endeavored to keep up the ruined exterior and interior. He initiated repairs, restoring the house and grounds of the estate, and even tried to find the original furniture that Jefferson owned. He was tireless in his efforts, and spent tens of thousands of dollars, if not one hundred thousand dollars, of his own money to restore the house to maximum condition.

That mattered little to a woman named Maud Littleton, who fought tooth and nail to have Monticello’s ownership removed from Levy. She was a wealthy socialite, married to a congressman. She petitioned Congress to purchase the estate from Levy’s hands, right out from under him, so to speak. He was against this, and an extremely bitter and long fight ensued, lasting over twenty years.

The woman was obsessed with the fact that Levy owned Monticello. She literally lied in front of Congress and the natiion, literally stated the house was in disrepair, when in fact it had been repaired, lied about anything and everything in order to make firm the fact that she wanted Monticello taken out from under Levy’s ownership.

As Leepson documents from actual records, newspaper accounts, lawsuits, documentations, brochures, and extremely factual research, there was an underlying tone of antisemitism fostering Littleton’s harsh stance. History was washed over in that respect.

And so goes the story, ending in 1923 when Jefferson Levy gave in and sold the estate for $500,000 to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. The Levy’s had ownership of the estate for a few months shy of ninety years, much, much longer that the Jefferson family owned it.

But, it did not end there, because the Levy family was never given their due. Historical records and even the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation did not readily acknowledge the Levy family’s contribution and steadfast repairs. Even during tours, there was no mention of them.

It took decades before they were acknowledged by the Foundation, and even at that, depending on the tour guide today, they are not always mentioned.

Leepson has given the reader an amazing overview of actual facts, data, events, timelines and the struggles that the Levy family endured. The story is compelling, especially to the history lover. He has left no stone unturned in his presentation of documentation, and his research is to be commended. His writing is brilliant. I gained so much knowledge from reading Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built.

This book should be on every high school, university, college, and public library shelf. Marc Leepson’s contribution to education and history is important, necessary, masterful and magnificent.

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