In This Review

Nuestra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation
Nuestra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation
By Claudio Lomnitz
464 pp, Other Press, 2021

Lomnitz, a cultural historian, adds to the burgeoning literature on immigration, ethnic identity, and racial hatred with this introspective memoir tracing the odyssey of his Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors from Nazi-infested Europe to South America, Israel, California, and Mexico City. Although mid-twentieth-century Latin America offered a safe haven from European barbarisms, the conservative Roman Catholic societies of the region were hardly free from anti-Semitism. Still, Lomnitz’s well-networked, intelligent, and hard-working family survived and even prospered. Yet they remained haunted by the unspeakable traumas of the Holocaust, even as parents sought to shield their children from truths too awful to recite. Based on his meticulous research, Lomnitz speculates that his great-grandfather, a successful businessman in Mannheim, Germany, was assassinated in his office by young Nazis—envious neighbors of his—as early as 1922. In more hopeful passages, he recounts how his relatives brushed shoulders with such luminaries as the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui and the Chilean folk composer Violeta Parra. Hanging over this poignant history is a disturbing question: Might today’s resurgence of identity politics and conspiracy theories, similarly rooted in historical revanchism and social envy, lead to yet another round of violent nightmares?