Our Ancestors, Ourselves


“When my father died,” writes Nancy Miller, “I became a middle-aged Jewish orphan.” Miller had always been Jewish, of course, but this ethnic identity had never meant much to her. When she lost her father, however, Miller set off on a massive treasure hunt to uncover her family’s past. She tells the story in her new memoir What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past.

Miller’s father was a huge packrat. In his house, she discovers a collection of odd objects–locks of hair, a postcard from Argentina, a set of letters written in Yiddish, a deed for a sizable area of land in Israel–that tell a story spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Miller travels around the world, to Texas and the Ukraine and Israel, even visiting gangsters in the Bronx, with an ultimately impossible goal: to experience her family’s past firsthand.

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