The former U.S. secretary of state blends World War II–era history and memoir in her account of her discovery, at age 59, that she had lost more than two-dozen relatives in the Holocaust.
Albright’s (Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership, 2008, etc.) parents had never told her of her Jewish heritage, and in January 1997 she had only recently learned of it when a Washington Post reporter broke the larger story. She spent the ensuing years researching her family’s history and the history of her native Czechoslovakia. She was aided in her endeavors by family material she found stored in boxes in her garage—and by a small research team. Born in 1937, the author naturally doesn’t remember the war’s earliest days, so the initial sections are principally a summary of history of the region and the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Occasionally, she slips into the first person to talk about the activities of her father, a career diplomat, and her mother, a diplomat’s wife but also a woman very interested in the supernatural. The most gripping parts are those personal stories; the others mostly repeat what can be found in many histories of the war and Holocaust. Retellings do not, of course, diminish the horror, but Albright sometimes focuses more on the politics and the war than on the remembrance. The personal passages increase in number and detail as she grows older. Also engaging are the later sections, which deal with the postwar politics in Czechoslovakia, especially the communists’ moves to subvert the fledgling democracy.
Although much is conventional history, the unconventional—the personal—animates and brightens the narrative.