What one might expect to be merely a charming family portrait, albeit one blessed by Mazower’s silk-textured writing, turns out to be a riveting account of people caught up in the last century’s most dramatic moments. At the center stands the author’s grandfather, Max, a taciturn, somewhat mysterious man, who was a key organizer for the turn-of-the-century Russian Bund, a Jewish Marxist movement. Hunted by the tsar’s police and twice exiled to Siberia, he later became a dapper marketing representative for the London-based Yost Typewriter Company. His wife, Frouma, had fled revolutionary Russia for the United Kingdom, but most of her family had remained, suffered, and survived. Mazower’s father, William, grew up thoroughly English, a middle-class secular Jew in Depression-era and wartime England. His half brother, André, in an ironic contrast, joined the extreme right and wrote anti-Semitic tracts. Mazower engagingly weaves together these lives and traces how they crossed paths with Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police; Maxim Litvinov, Stalin’s foreign minister; the poet T. S. Eliot; the anarchist Emma Goldman; and a host of other prominent interwar political and literary figures.
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