The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family
June Cohen barely adapted to the dismal gray of London after a sun-filled childhood in South Africa. She is the “girl” in Roger Cohen’s memoir, The Girl from Human Street, his mother whose mental instability drew him to explore his extended family’s history. Whether his mother was provoked by her surroundings or harboring a mental instability that arose in other family members, Cohen expresses lasting sadness about her manic depression, a mood he returns to over and again, fragmenting the continuity of his narrative. The pages are a pastiche of direct and reconstructed memories of his forebears who migrated from Lithuania to Johannesburg, where some enjoyed notable success. But interspersed with charming anecdotes he talks of the impact of a holocaust massacre in his family’s Lithuanian hometown, unsparingly singling out another family’s tragedies.
The son and nephew of eminent dentists, Cohen was raised and educated in England, traveling and writing extensively before becoming a journalist in the United States. Taking frequent steps to the Middle East, he discusses intensely and emotionally the imperative existence of Israel while abhorring its political direction. Surely, the charming passages from Uncle Bert’s letters written in World War II Italy and his grandfather’s memoir contribute to Cohen’s own dexterous writing and his creation of an outstanding book.
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