Monday, July 25, 2016

Of Love and War and Immigration

Book Review: Their Promised Land by Ian Buruma

Immigration is a hot button topic right now, liable to induce polarized opinions in just about any audience. Their Promised Land steers a middle course, generally avoiding the shores of politics and the shoals and rocks that surround them, favoring the depths of the subtitle My Grandparents in Love and War

But the immigrant status of the family is always there, a bulking shadow just over the horizon, barely hidden in the fog of two world wars and the unsettled years between them. Ethnic families tried to avoid the latent prejudice by Anglicizing their last names. Jews adopted Christianity in an attempt to avoid the 'stigma' of being different. Author Ian Buruma doesn't ignore the elephant in the room, but in his occasional sidelong glances in its direction he makes it impossible to ignore.

That is a good thing. Immigration has ALWAYS been a hot button topic, laden with unacknowledged racism and prejudice. Each successive wave of immigrants in the United States has faced a backlash from those who have arrived before them; seemingly oblivious to the fact that unless you are 100% Native American, we are all immigrants here. Their Promised Land takes place in England in the first half of the twentieth century, but it could just as well be anywhere, at any time.

Despite this, Buruma keeps us focused on the fact that these are just two people, trying to make a life for themselves and raise a family. The universal principle at work here is not that prejudice is always with us, but that people go on in spite of it. That is where our hope lies.