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Home » My Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory, and the Violence of a Century

My Father’s Wars: Migration, Memory, and the Violence of a Century

Author: Alisse Waterston

“My father was born into war,” begins this remarkable saga in Alisse Waterston’s intimate ethnography, a story that is also twentieth century social history. This is an anthropologist’s vivid account of her father’s journey across continents, countries, cultures, languages, generations—and wars. It is a daughter’s moving portrait of a charming, funny, wounded and difficult man, his relationships with those he loved, and his most sacred of beliefs. And it is a scholar’s reflection on the dramatic forces of history, the legacies of culture, and the enduring power of memory.

Advance Praise for My Father’s Wars

Not every father is blessed with an ethnographer for a daughter – and not every ethnographer has a father with such an extraordinary story and memory. The intimate ethnography arising from that relationship is nothing short of exceptional. Experimental and hybrid, this ethnography exemplifies what anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff calls the “third voice,” something new that arises “when two points of view are engaged in examining one life.” That life, lived in times of war and trauma, a Jewish life lived in Poland, is given a new life in this innovative ethnography.

—Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland before the Holocaust, with her father, Mayer Kirshenblatt 

“My Father’s Wars is a beautifully written book that brilliantly weaves the emotional intensity of familial relationships through a torrent 20th century history. The unique trajectory of a family’s migration sets the stage for a gripping story that accentuates personal travails amidst the damaged grandeur of 20th century white masculinity.  In my view, this book should be a model for intimate ethnography.” 

—Tim Black, author of When A Heart Turns Rock Solid, Case Western Reserve University

“This is a remarkable work that may well become an anthropological classic.  The combination of honesty, vulnerability, and deep scholarship expressed in supremely readable prose is rare.  Waterston has obviously carried out a great deal of research, but she wears her knowledge lightly, using it to understand rather than impress.” 

—Joan Cassell, author of The Woman in the Surgeon’s Body, Washington University in St. Louis

Alisse Waterston’s intimate ethnography begins with a writer’s question: how can you tell your father’s story if you are a daughter who is also an anthropologist? My Father’s War is an extraordinary account of a man “born into war,” that begins in Jedwabne, Poland, a man whose memories can bring him—and the reader—to tears. It’s also the gripping narrative of a daughter’s return to places where pieces of tragic Jewish history took root.

—Nancy K. Miller, What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past 

“This is an utterly fascinating, touching, informative, and beautifully crafted “intimate ethnography.”Historical, personal, and anthropological, it crosses genres and disciplines. I love this book.” 

—Fran Mascia-Lees, author of Gender and Difference in a Globalizing World: Twenty-First Century Anthropology, Rutgers University.