Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900 by Simon Schama

Review published on December 18, 2017.

This second volume of Simon Schama’s history of the Jewish people begins in the ghettos of Venice, where the Jews of the Iberian peninsula had ended up after being expelled. Those who had not escaped were forced to convert and even then they were still persecuted. This search for safety and somewhere to live where they could carry on with their lives in peace had been a pressing concern and, as this book explains in some detail, the themes of moving, settling, suffering and moving again, would keep repeating for the next few hundred years.

The story that Schama tells is as epic in scope as it is global. We travel with him all around Europe, into the cold of Russia, across the Atlantic to the New World of America and venture into the privileged upper-class world of the English aristocracy. He tells of those who lost children as they were conscripted into the army, those who found peace before the winds of change in Europe blew through once again, those who suffered for their faith and those who fought back. Even though this is a sweeping history of a people, he concentrates on individuals and specific events to explain the wider history the Jews.

This is a huge book at around 800 odd pages long and Schama goes into huge amounts of detail as he tells his stories of the Jewish people. Some of it is fascinating, but there were times when I felt like I was wading through it as he expanded on the minutia as the events unfolded. It is one that I feel some sort of accomplishment having now read it.

Paul Cheney 3/-

Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900 by Simon Schama
Bodley Head 9781847922809 hbk Oct 2017

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