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A History of the Grandparents I Never Had

Ivan Jablonka | Translated by Jane Kuntz | Stanford University Press | May 11, 2016

Ivan Jablonka's grandparents' lives ended long before his began: although Matès and Idesa Jablonka were his family, they were perfect strangers. When he set out to uncover their story, Jablonka had little to work with. Neither of them was the least bit famous, and they left little behind except their two orphaned children, a handful of letters, and a passport. Persecuted as communists in Poland, as refugees in France, and then as Jews under the Vichy regime, Matès and Idesa lived their short lives underground.

Jablonka's challenge was, as a historian, to rigorously distance himself and yet, as family, to invest himself completely in their story. Imagined oppositions collapsed—between scholarly research and personal commitment, between established facts and the passion of the one recording them, between history and the art of storytelling. To write this book, Jablonka traveled to three continents; met the handful of survivors of his grandparents' era, their descendants, and some of his far-flung cousins; and investigated twenty different archives. And in the process, he reflected on his own family and his responsibilities to his father, the orphaned son, and to his own children and the family wounds they all inherited.

A History of the Grandparents I Never Had cannot bring Matès and Idesa to life, but Jablonka succeeds in bringing them, as he soberly puts it, to light. The result is a gripping story, a profound reflection, and an absolutely extraordinary history.

Ivan Jablonka is Professor of Contemporary History at the University Paris 13, and Editor-in-Chief of La Vie des idées/Books and Ideas. This book, first published in French, won the 2012 Prix du Sénat du livre d'histoire, Prix Guizot de l'Académie française, and the Prix Augustin-Thierry des Rendez-Vous de l'Histoire de Blois. The translation won a French Voices Grant in 2012.

Read an excerpt here.

More information is available on the publisher's website.

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