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The Girl From Human Street

It has taken me a long time to piece all this together. Memories come not like heavy rain but the drops falling from leaves after it. There were elements missing. At last I knew I would not be whole until I found them... June Cohen was born on Human Street in 1929. Her street ran through the centre of Krugersdorp, a mining town near Johannesburg where June's father, Laurie, a doctor, and his wife of Lithuanian Jewish heritage, had decided to establish themselves thirty years on from the family's crossing to South Africa. June was named after the month she was born in. In the wake of his mother's death, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen embarks on a compassionate and sensitive portrait of the journeys made by both his maternal and paternal family, exploring the stories that have filtered through to him since childhood. Told through personal letters and collective memories, Cohen follows his family from Lithuania to South Africa, England, the United States and Israel. He illuminates the uneasy resonance of the racism his relatives witnessed living in apartheid-era South Africa and explores the pervasive sense of `otherness' that originated from his Jewish heritage of persecution and from the repeated loss that accompanied his forebears' multiple migrations. And through this, he begins to understand better the manic depression that has permeated his family and that plagued his mother until her last moments. A sweeping family story spanning continents, families and great swathes of history, Roger Cohen's deeply personal examination of Jewish identity is a tale of displacement and remembrance, an account of suicide and resilience, a meditation on identity and belonging, a classic for our times.
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An expansive yet intimate memoir of modern Jewish identity, following the diaspora of the author's own family to assay the impact of memory, displacement and disquiet


About the Author

Roger Cohen is a columnist for the New York Times. As foreign editor, he oversaw Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked as a foreign correspondent for many years, beginning at Reuters. He has won numerous accolades and was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award at the International Media Awards in 2012. Raised in South Africa and London, a naturalized American, he lives in London and New York. @NYTimesCohen


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 * Joseph Lelyveld, author of Great Soul * Roger Cohen has given us a profound and powerful book, gripping from start to finish. The story of his Jewish family's suffering and success, from Lithuania before the Shoah to South Africa, London and Tel Aviv today, features fierce battles against external demons (Hitler, Stalin, pervasive anti-Semitism) and the internal demons of depression and displacement. Wise and reflective, The Girl from Human Street is memoir at its finest * Fritz Stern, author of Five Germanys I Have Known * I am moved by this book. I find fascinating the fusion of the private, even intimate family story with the history of European Jews in the twentieth century, the marriage of a subtle memoir with an essay on Jewish identity, tradition and assimilation, various diasporas and Israel, Israelis and Palestinians, humanism vs. fanaticism * Amos Oz, author of A Tale of Love and Darkness * Roger Cohen has written an absorbing, haunting voyage around the Jewish twentieth century. A book full of loss and love, it charts the intense, universal need to belong - a need so great, it can lead to despair and even a kind of madness. It is more than the story of one family. It is the story of a need that makes us human * Jonathan Freedland, author of Jacob's Gift * In this honest and lucid book, the British-born Cohen tells how his Lithuanian Jewish ancestors came to South Africa ... With limpid prose, Cohen delivers a searching and profoundly moving memoir * Kirkus Reviews * In a lyrical, digressive tracking of mental illness in his far-flung family, New York Times columnist Cohen explores the tentacles of repressed memory in Jewish identity * Publishers Weekly * Impressive ... His often moving, beautifully written book may be a "story of the 20th century", but it also explores how Jewish identity might evolve in the 21st * Sunday Times * Roger Cohen is an eminent journalist and a wonderful storyteller ... The Girl from Human Street has important things to say, things that can perhaps only be said by a Jewish author. Cohen's book is brave, honourable and enlightened. It is also beautifully written **** * Daily Telegraph * I was unprepared to be as gripped and moved as I was by this exploration of his family's past ... His observations about what it was like to be a Jew in Britain are sharp * The Times * Beneath this brave memoir of a Jewish clan looms the memory of the Zagare massacre **** * Sunday Telegraph * Searing, passionate detail ... By tracing where his mother came from, Cohen, the Jewish runaway, 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 * Observer *

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