In This Review

The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
The Great Departure: Mass Migration from Eastern Europe and the Making of the Free World
By Tara Zahra
Norton, 2016, 400 pp
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Americans, many of whom descend from the 50 million eastern Europeans who came to North and South America from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, cherish the simple, heartening idea that nearly all those immigrants fled persecution or hardship and shared in the American dream. Zahra, in wave after wave of detail, makes plain that the story is not so simple. Many who came found the New World harsh, unwelcoming, and alien, and a third of them returned home, even though during the late nineteenth century, many European governments sought to rid their societies of minorities and “undesirables”—in the Russian case, 2.7 million Jews and Polish and German speakers. Other countries fought against emigration as a threat to their national projects. By the turn of the century, however, some governments and nationalist movements sought to aid their kinsmen in foreign lands or saw them as the spear of colonizing efforts, at least in Latin America. Zahra handles this immensely complicated and multidimensional history with remarkable clarity and feeling.