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The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family
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Published:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 2015
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Description

An intimate and profoundly moving Jewish family history—a story of displacement, prejudice, hope, despair, and love.
In this luminous memoir, award-winning New York Times columnist Roger Cohen turns a compassionate yet discerning eye on the legacy of his own forebears. As he follows them across continents and decades, mapping individual lives that diverge and intertwine, vital patterns of struggle and resilience, valued heritage and evolving loyalties (religious, ethnic, national), converge into a resonant portrait of cultural identity in the modern age.
Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through to the present day, Cohen tracks his family’s story of repeated upheaval, from Lithuania to South Africa, and then to England, the United States, and Israel. It is a tale of otherness marked by overt and latent anti-Semitism, but also otherness as a sense of inheritance. We see Cohen’s family members grow roots in each adopted homeland even as they struggle to overcome the loss of what is left behind and to adapt—to the racism his parents witness in apartheid-era South Africa, to the familiar ostracism an uncle from Johannesburg faces after fighting against Hitler across Europe, to the ambivalence an Israeli cousin experiences when tasked with policing the occupied West Bank.
At the heart of The Girl from Human Street is the powerful and touching relationship between Cohen and his mother, that “girl.” Tortured by the upheavals in her life yet stoic in her struggle, she embodies her son’s complex inheritance.
Graceful, honest, and sweeping, Cohen’s remarkable chronicle of the quest for belonging across generations contributes an important chapter to the ongoing narrative of Jewish life.

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Street Date:
01/13/2015
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780385353137
ASIN:
B00LYXPYIA
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APA Citation (style guide)

Roger Cohen. (2015). The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Roger Cohen. 2015. The Girl From Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Roger Cohen, The Girl From Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Roger Cohen. The Girl From Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2015.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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        ROGER COHEN is a columnist for The New York Times, where he has worked since 1990: as a correspondent in Paris and Berlin, and as bureau chief in the Balkans covering the Bosnian war (for which he received an Overseas Press Club prize). He was named a columnist in 2009. He became foreign editor on 9/11, overseeing Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage in the aftermath of the attack. His columns appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. His previous books include Soldiers and Slaves and Hearts Grown Brutal. He lives in London.
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fullDescription

An intimate and profoundly moving Jewish family history—a story of displacement, prejudice, hope, despair, and love.
In this luminous memoir, award-winning New York Times columnist Roger Cohen turns a compassionate yet discerning eye on the legacy of his own forebears. As he follows them across continents and decades, mapping individual lives that diverge and intertwine, vital patterns of struggle and resilience, valued heritage and evolving loyalties (religious, ethnic, national), converge into a resonant portrait of cultural identity in the modern age.
Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through to the present day, Cohen tracks his family’s story of repeated upheaval, from Lithuania to South Africa, and then to England, the United States, and Israel. It is a tale of otherness marked by overt and latent anti-Semitism, but also otherness as a sense of inheritance. We see Cohen’s family members grow roots in each adopted homeland even as they struggle to overcome the loss of what is left behind and to adapt—to the racism his parents witness in apartheid-era South Africa, to the familiar ostracism an uncle from Johannesburg faces after fighting against Hitler across Europe, to the ambivalence an Israeli cousin experiences when tasked with policing the occupied West Bank.
At the heart of The Girl from Human Street is the powerful and touching relationship between Cohen and his mother, that “girl.” Tortured by the upheavals in her life yet stoic in her struggle, she embodies her son’s complex inheritance.
Graceful, honest, and sweeping, Cohen’s remarkable chronicle of the quest for belonging across generations contributes an important chapter to the ongoing narrative of Jewish life.

reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: The New York Review of Books
      • content: "Empathetic and far-reaching... The imaginative empathy that he brings even to the secondary figures depicted here...is sometimes breathtaking... Cohen's book is written with a generosity that is truly humane."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Washington Post
      • content: "Beautifully crafted....[Cohen] reveals how the threads of [his] legacy of displacement are woven together, all the while making visible tears in the fabric never to be fully mended."
      • premium: False
      • source: USA Today
      • content: "There is so much to admire in The Girl from Human Street. Cohen['s]...suggestion that certain depressive natures are triggered, or more to the point, haunted, by their immigrant history, is profound. His memoir will linger in any reader's memory."
      • premium: False
      • source: The New York Times Book Review
      • content: "Cohen places the particular experiences of his family in a large historical frame....In his instructive meditations on history and Jewish life, Cohen...catches virtually the entire twentieth century."
      • premium: False
      • source: Ian Critchley, The Sunday Times
      • content: "Impressive....[Cohen's] moving, beautifully written book may be a 'story of the 20th century', but it also explores how Jewish identity might evolve in the 21st."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Financial Times
      • content: "A moving, complex story that traces a family's century of migration."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Guardian
      • content: "By tracing where his mother came from...[Cohen] speaks universally in this disarmingly raw narrative, and his lovely but haunted mother even more so – not least in her refusal to give up trying to love."
      • premium: False
      • source: Haaretz
      • content: "[As with] Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness...we are in the hands of a master stylist....As a writer [Cohen] is peerless among his journalist colleagues."
      • premium: False
      • source: Publishers Weekly
      • content: "Cohen...explores the tentacles of repressed memory in Jewish identity....Thoughtful, wide-ranging, he muses on his own migrations spurred by 'buried truths.'"
      • premium: False
      • source: The Jerusalem Post
      • content: "Exquisite....[Cohen] writes with a poetic fragility...always striving for moral clarity, even when his own inner contradictions and complexities impede him."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Jewish Week
      • content: "Many others have written stories of their family's roots and journeys, but Cohen's work stands out for his poetic and powerful prose."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Huffington Post
      • content: "Cohen knows the pleasures and also the loneliness of diaspora. In writing his stirring memoir, in constructing a past with which he can live, he wrestled with demons both historical and personal."
      • premium: False
      • source: Bookanista
      • content: "Vibrant, unusual and staunchly poignant....It is in fact not one, but many books: a lingering, evocative memoir, a gripping narrative, a shrewd socioeconomic history of South Africa, Britain, Israel, the US and Eastern Europe, a piercing philosophical analysis of the ethics of memory, of belonging to a story. It is quite unflinchingly an inquiry into the moral prerequisites of being human."
      • premium: False
      • source: Kirkus, starred review
      • content: "Honest and lucid...With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir."
      • premium: False
      • source: Booklist
      • content: "Insightful, sometimes controversial commentary on crucial contemporary issues."
      • premium: False
      • source: Joseph Lelyveld, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White
      • content: "A gifted journalist, who has powerfully conveyed the grief of the bereft in various international trouble spots, here wrestles with his own grief for a mother who suffered through episodes of suicidal depression. This turns into a quest for core values in a family history spanning three continents, in which one uprooting led to the next. Many readers will find a mirror in Roger Cohen's layered, ambitious, haunting book."
      • premium: False
      • source: Henry A. Kissinger
      • content: "Roger Cohen captures a century's upheavals in his moving, thoughtful, and well-written family saga."
      • premium: False
      • source: Mary Szybist, winner of the National Book Award
      • content: "Roger Cohen's great-grandfather once expressed the wish that every person might 'truly know that all of creation--from the sand granule to the shining star--is connected like one chain.' I wish he could read his great-grandson's book and experience how powerfully it initiates us into that extraordinary awareness. Beautifully written and deeply moving, The Girl from Human Street is at once a love letter to a lost mother and an unflinching account of devastation and displacement. How can a story of such sweeping scope also be so tender and so intimate? Roger Cohen turns personal and historical excavation into symphony."
      • premium: False
      • source: Jonathan Freedland, columnist, The Guardian
      • content: "Roger Cohen has written an absorbing, haunting voyage around the Jewish twentieth century. A book full of loss and love, it charts the
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        October 27, 2014
        In a lyrical, digressive tracking of mental illness in his far-flung family, New York Times columnist Cohen (Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis Final Gamble) explores the tentacles of repressed memory in Jewish identity. Cohen’s grandparents on both sides came from Lithuanian shtetls and migrated at the end of the 19th century to South Africa. From modest beginnings as grocers and roving peddlers, they gradually prospered as business leaders and professionals in Johannesburg, far from the calamity of Nazi Germany. Cohen’s father, a doctor in Krugersdorp, settled in London after WWII, bringing his South African wife, June, née Adler; assimilation was the rule of the day, and the horrors of Auschwitz were not discussed. “Better to look forward, work hard, say little,” Cohen, born in the mid-1950s, writes. Paralyzing depression dogged his mother, requiring hospitalization and electroconvulsive therapy, and she made several suicide attempts over the years. Her manic depression was shared by other members of the family, which Cohen traces to being “tied to... a Jewish odyssey of the 20th century, and the tremendous pressure of wandering, adapting, pretending, silencing, and forgetting.” Cohen writes eloquently of the great looming irony of apartheid for the once similarly persecuted, now privileged Jews of South African, as well as the divisive oppression in Israel. Thoughtful, wide-ranging, he muses on his own migrations spurred by “buried truths.”

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from November 1, 2014
        In an effort to understand the modern Jewish experience, distinguished New York Times columnist Cohen (Soldiers and Slaves: American POWs Trapped by the Nazis' Final Gamble, 2005, etc.) examines his family history of displacement, despair and resilience.The author has always prided himself on confronting the truth in his writing, but he knew that his work allowed him to escape the more difficult task of articulating a deeper personal truth. In this honest and lucid book, the British-born Cohen tells how his Lithuanian Jewish ancestors came to South Africa. Tolerated by white South Africans because they were also white-skinned, the author's relatives made prosperous lives as business people while avoiding the fate of millions of other Jews in Nazi Europe. Despite their successes, however, members of both sides of his family were plagued by mental illness. The genes that caused it "formed an unbroken chain with the past," which many of them tried to ignore. Cohen focuses in particular on the tragic story of his mother, June. Gifted and beautiful, she was also bipolar. When she and her family relocated to London, her symptoms surfaced and remained with her for the rest of her life. Cohen links June's unraveling with her sense of being a stranger in a strange land. Like one of his mother's relatives who ended up in Israel and eventually committed suicide, "[June] was a transplant who did not take." All too aware of how many South African Jews turned a blind eye to the problem of apartheid in South Africa, Cohen also examines Israel's evolution into a colonial nation that oppresses Arab minorities. Millennia of persecution and eternal exile has made a Jewish homeland a necessity, yet Israel will never fully succeed as a state until peaceful coexistence-of the kind white and black South Africans have slowly worked toward-becomes a reality. With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir.

        COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        November 1, 2014
        Sit on the fence and people get killed behind it. The many readers of New York Times columnist Cohen will recognize the plain talk and passionate commitment, as well as the insightful, sometimes controversial commentary on crucial contemporary issues. And the wit. Rooted in his extended family's immigration story, especially that of his mother (who, moved from South Africa to London, became mentally ill, and attempted suicide in 1978), he addresses here the role of Jews in twentieth-century history, from Eastern Europe to South Africa to Britain to Israel. Never simplistic, he acknowledges that under apartheid most Jews looked on and kept quiet. As a child, he heard it Thank God for the blacks. If not for them, it would be us even as he points out the strong Jewish role in anti-apartheid resistance. Later, in Israel, his immigrant family split over the Occupation. Sure to spark debate, the often-painful immigration story stays with you, about then and now: As a child, trust was a stranger . . . . I had to look both ways. (Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        August 1, 2014

        Award-winning New York Times columnist Cohen chronicles the post-Holocaust Jewish experience largely through the life of his mother and her family, moving from Lithuania to South Africa, England, the United States, and Israel to consider the all-too-familiar racism of apartheid, for instance, and how the inevitable sense of otherness has damaged his family emotionally, contributing to a deep streak of manic depression.

        Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        December 1, 2014

        Journalist Cohen (New York Times; Soldiers and Slaves) presents a sprawling, multifaceted memoir that delves deeply into his family history, his mother's struggle with mental illness, and broader issues of Jewish identity, history, culture, and belonging within a wider diaspora. With his mother, June, firmly at the center of his tale, the author ably weaves disparate threads of his ancestors' stories, tracing their paths from Lithuania to apartheid-era South Africa, and eventually his family's settlement in England, where June's bipolar disorder emerged. VERDICT Cohen's nonchronological structure, sometimes elusive prose, and tendency to circle back to topics may challenge some readers. However, his creative approach to the genre form, deeply considered views, and candor will yield poignant rewards for thoughtful memoir fans interested in Jewish history, the modern Jewish experience, issues of displacement and immigration, or family struggles to cope with mental illness. Readers interested in Jewish immigration narratives may also consider Lucette Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/14.]--Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI

        Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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An intimate and profoundly moving Jewish family history—a story of displacement, prejudice, hope, despair, and love.
In this luminous memoir, award-winning New York Times columnist Roger Cohen turns a compassionate yet discerning eye on the legacy of his own forebears. As he follows them across continents and decades, mapping individual lives that diverge and intertwine, vital patterns of struggle and resilience, valued heritage and evolving loyalties (religious, ethnic, national), converge into a resonant portrait of cultural identity in the modern age.
Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through to the present day, Cohen tracks his family’s story of repeated upheaval, from Lithuania to South Africa, and then to England, the United States, and Israel. It is a tale of otherness marked by overt and latent anti-Semitism, but also otherness as a sense of inheritance. We see Cohen’s family members grow roots in each adopted...

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