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LIVE ON CROWDCAST: CLAUDIO LOMNITZ discusses his new book NUESTRA AMERICA with Graciela Montaldo

*Please note: this event will take place live on Crowdcast. RSVP here to join the livestream or watch the replay!

Nuestra América: My Family in the Vertigo of Translation (Other Press)

Drawing from letters, historical documents, and journals across half a dozen languages, and oral interviews with his family, Lomnitz rigorously documents his grandparents’ fight for Jewish emancipation in Eastern Europe as they faced down horrific anti-Semitism, their forced emigration to Peru and subsequent engagement with the Peruvian cultural, intellectual and political movements of the 1920s, their participation in the anti-fascist struggle in Colombia, where they were again exiled during World War II, their emigration to Israel in 1949, and their eventual return to South America in the 1950s. He uncovers the murder of his great-grandfather in the early days of the Nazis, a dark family secret that even the victim’s namesake, Lomnitz’s father, wasn’t aware of. With empathetic and engaging prose, he creates a vivid portrait of his family’s strength as they endure these endless migrations, heartbreak, and hardship, including the unthinkable pain of being forced to leave family members behind as they flee the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust and pogroms that wipe out their once-thriving Jewish town of Nova Sulitza, and the challenges of kibbutz life in the Israeli desert. 

A personal excavation as well as a vibrant historical analysis, in Nuestra América Lomnitz considers how some manage to strive for intellectual engagement and cultural exploration, even as they’re working desperately just to survive. In the middle is Lomnitz himself, telling of what actually transpires, and the failure of words in the attempt to understand such paradoxes. He relishes how his family, particularly his maternal grandparents Misha and Noemi, found dignity and importance in their active role in history, politics, culture and science. Each spoke eight languages, and both enjoyed a close friendship with José Carlos Mariátegui, arguably Latin America’s most prominent radical thinker; they corresponded with Freud and Nobel laureates Rómulo Gallegos and Gabriela Mistral; and lived next-door to Chilean folk-composer Violeta Parra. Wherever they could, they started cultural and literary publications, including one from Mariátegui’s home. Lomnitz’s mother, Larissa, went back to college in her thirties and later wrote a doctoral thesis that is still a classic in Latin American urban studies, and his father created an equation on the torsion of rocks that has been generalized as a relevant principle of all fluid physics. 

Throughout Nuestra AméricaLomnitz reflects on the endless perseverance required to accomplish so much, and how, despite this, his family’s collective trauma was reflected even in his own happy childhood. He laments Misha’s role as a “minor figure”, as his many forced relocations prevented him from ever laying down roots and having a deeper impact on history. He shares his own perplexities on the decisions his grandparents made, and skillfully places them into a larger historical context, such as Misha and Noemi’s arrest as part of what became known as Peru’s first pogrom in November 1929,  accused of being part of “Jewish Communist plot” that caused the U.S. stock market to crash weeks earlier. This led to their being forced out of Peru, searching for a home once again.

Weaving threads of personal memoir, historical analysis, and family saga,Nuestra América draws a dynamic variety of perspectives into focus. From the ghettos of Romania and the Holocaust, across Europe, South America, kibbutz and city life in Israel, and the United States, to his own childhood in Chile, California, and Mexico City, Lomnitz excels at capturing pace, teeming human life, aspiration and struggle in each destination. Lomnitz presents poignant reflections on world events and the eternal search for security and community, on ambition lost and opportunities robbed, on the human capacity to persevere, and on the power of trauma to persist across generationsNuestra América is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the forces at work in the global migrant debate and its implications for the future.

Praise for Nuestra América:

“An autobiography in which we Latin Americans all recognize ourselves.” —Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature

“Claudio Lomnitz’s riveting family memoir is an account of trauma and displacement, but also one of resilience, passion, and even joy. From Romania to Peru to Colombia to Israel to California to Mexico and beyond, his forebears, vividly portrayed, lived lives of profound political and intellectual engagement and were intimate with important historical actors. Nuestra América joins Philippe Sands’ East West Street and Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes, bringing to light untold narratives of the Jewish diaspora.” —Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

“An extraordinary journey—vital, absorbing, elegiac, and so finely honed.” —Philippe Sands, author of The Ratline and East West Street

Claudio Lomnitz is an anthropologist, historian, and critic who works broadly on Latin American culture and politics. He is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Lomnitz’s books include Death and the Idea of Mexico and The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón, among many others. As a regular columnist in the Mexico City paper La Jornada and an award-winning dramaturgist, he is committed to bringing historical and anthropological understanding into public debate.

Graciela Montaldo is a professor at the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Columbia University. She specializes in modern Latin American Culture with a focus on contemporary cultural practices. She is the author of several books on Latin American cultures. Her last monograph, Museum of Consumption. Archives of Mass Culture in Argentina, will be published next month (Cambria Press). Montaldo is co-editor of The Argentina Reader: History, Culture and Politics

Event date: 
Monday, February 22, 2021 - 6:30pm
Event address: 
1818 N Vermont Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
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