Translated by Jeremy Moyle
Rather than going in search of his Jewish roots, Sandro Gerbi focuses on the reverse process: the gradual secularization of his family during the twentieth century, through the progressive distancing from religious observance, Jewish communal life and endogamy. Following the travels, achievements and vicissitudes of two generations, the author explores collective and personal history without nostalgia, but also without any contempt for his ancestry.
The story begins in 1938, the year in which the author’s father, the historian and economist Antonello Gerbi, was forced to leave Italy for Peru because of racial laws. The fate of his two brothers — one a sports journalist, the other a doctor — who found shelter in the United States, was similar. With his agile writing, rich in anecdotes, Gerbi traces the ‘Jewish’ thread in the events of his life: his birth in Peru in 1943 because of his father’s exile, the return to Italy in ’48, the survival of a specific “family lexicon,” and a trip to Israel in December 1967. He recounts some decisive meetings: the financial expert Renato Cantoni, the philosopher György Lukács, the journalists Ugo Stille and Indro Montanelli, the literary agent Erich Linder. Finally, the moving first return to Lima in 2010, 62 years after leaving.
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Sandro Gerbi (Lima,1943), a historian and journalist, is the author, among other works, of: Tempi di malafede, Guido Piovene ed Eugenio Colorni, Comisso Award (Turin: Einaudi,1999; rev.ed., Milan: Hoepli, 2012); Raffaele Mattioli e il filosofo domato (Turin: Einaudi, 2002; rev. ed., Milan: Hoepli 2017); Indro Montanelli, una biografia (with Raffaele Liucci), two volumes (Turin: Einaudi, 2006, 2009; rev.ed., Milan: Hoepli, 2014); Mattioli e Cuccia, due banchieri del Novecento (Turin: Einaudi, 2011); Giovanni Enriques dalla Olivetti alla Zanichelli, Biella Award (Milan: Hoepli, 2013); I Cosattini. Una famiglia antifascista di Udine, Matteotti Award (Milan: Hoepli, 2016). He has contributed for over twenty years to the cultural sections of daily papers La Stampa, Il Sole 24 Ore and Il Corriere della Sera.
“My father was very fortunate because the bank he worked for as Senior Economist, sent him to Peru in ’38 with the same role in a subsidiary local bank. He had a ten-year exile, a golden one, in a country where he revolutionized the horizon of his studies, writing what have become “classic” books in the field of American Studies, and have been translated into various languages. As far as I am concerned, Peru has become a kind of ideal second home (next year in Lima, I said half-jokingly). I went back only once after 60 years: it was a moving experience, through which, among other things, I realized that the memory of my father still lives on vividly in Peru.“
What the critics say
“Sandro Gerbi recalls the events of his family history. The devastating effect of state anti-Semitism introduced by Mussolini […] None of them were particularly observant: in the 1931 census, Antonello declared himself Buddhist as a joke, and in 1932 he left the Jewish Community of Milan, proudly claiming his secularism.”
Paolo Mieli, Corriere della Sera, May 20, 2019
“Reluctant Jews glides over decades between life experiences and intellectual pursuits. Several generations of a family cross, collide, and overlap between Italy, Latin America, and the United States.”
Gulio Busi, Il Sole 24 Ore, June 2, 2019
“Reluctant Jews is a book not to be missed. It narrates with precious lightness the dramatic scattering of a family.”
Bernardo Valli, L’Espresso, June 9, 2019
“In Reluctant Jews, Sandro Gerbi selects — like a film director — characters with strong and defined profiles, a full and solid life, and extraordinary far-reaching relationships. And through this well-identified and recognizable group, transforms the exodus into a great adventure”.
Furio Colombo, Il Fatto Quotidiano, July 1, 2019