In Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), Sarah Abrevaya Stein
weaves a narrative tapestry whose threads are drawn from the archives of one Sephardic family, with roots in the city of Salonica, then in the Ottoman Empire, now Thessaloniki in Greece. The story begins with one of the prominent Jewish citizens of that thriving port city, then follows the family in its dispersion through nine countries across three continents during the most tumultuous and violent years of the twentieth century.
This fascinating book is not only a masterful work of archival research but of storytelling. Professor Stein deftly portrays the vivid personalities that comprise the family, even as she teaches valuable lessons about the Sephardic culture in which they were firmly implanted. Professor Stein also ponders important questions about the nature of personal, family, and cultural memories, and the importance of the vanishing art of written correspondence -- and the way history, properly told, can restore and revive buried narratives, and the relationships that gave them life. The result is a masterwork of historical narrative, and a story beautifully told.
David Gottlieb, a member of the teaching faculty at Spertus Institute in Chicago, received his PhD in the History of Judaism from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2018. He is the author of
Second Slayings: The Binding of Isaac and the Formation of Jewish Memory (Gorgias Press, 2019).