If there is one universal truth, it is that our grandparents have a lifetime of wisdom and knowledge; and if we are lucky, they share some of this personal history with their families. John Shallman, who discovered his grandfather’s 100-year-old manuscript, shared his grandfather’s wealth of knowledge with the world at large, with Return From Siberia.
Return From Siberia is an incredible tale of family, endurance, revolution, politics and adventure. The story follows Joseph, exiled to Siberia, and his return to his family, move to America, and all that followed. The novel dives into what his experiences taught both him and his family, a century later. Below are five key things to take from Joseph’s narrative, and lessons that were imparted onto John and his children all those years later.
1. THE EFFECTS OF POLITICS ON A FAMILY
One particularly relevant aspect of the Return From Siberia narrative is the way politics, both personal and professional, has a way of seeping into family life, across generations in this case. For Joseph and his brother, Max, their different stances on the politics of labor rights tore them apart. More positively, a similar passion for human rights and political equality is what brought John and his daughter closer together. This power that politics holds to be both divisive and unifying is one of the biggest lessons Joe’s story has to share, whether that be with his ancestors or the reader themselves.
2. MARRIAGE AND AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP
Something that ties the 21st Century family with their grandfather’s 1920s upbringing, across the Atlantic, is the effect and relative importance of marrying into an American citizenship. In both instances, the marriage was one of love, as it is for millions of newly-minted American citizens. When Joseph marries Rose, he is brought into the American way of life, officially and within the eyes of the law. For Patti, in her political career, the legitimacy of her own citizenship is called into question as a way to discredit her pursuits. Across the generational gap, it is made clear that the marriages that result in an opportunity for the realization of the American Dream are valid, important, and not to be discredited.
3. LOVE IN LIMBO
The precariousness of love is not an alien concept to anyone who has ever felt it. For John’s family, past and present, this precarity is made worse by their positions of limbo. In Joseph’s case, his love for Rosa is one that endures distance, opposition, violent and sudden separation, and eventually tragic death. Joe and Rosa are never able to connect fully, as their situations leave them in purgatory. Theirs is a situation that is echoed in that of John’s daughter, Rose, whose boyfriend is deported to Iran, throwing their lives together into another state of limbo. What the story imparts is that love is love no matter its constraints, and that it is perhaps the most enduring emotion humans possess.
4. JUDAISM IN USA, EUROPE AND OVER THE COURSE OF GENERATIONS
Jewish culture is important to the family no matter their location or what else is happening in their lives. From his upbringing in Russia, his exile to Siberia, and eventual journey to America, Joseph’s faith remains an important cornerstone of his life. Likewise, in modern America, John and his family are united and strengthened by their shared Jewish faith. In the end, it is their youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah that takes the center stage, as an important symbol of the culture and belief system that they so wonderfully champion.
5. THE POWER AND VALUE OF FAMILY
This story only exists by virtue of family. Joe’s manuscript is brought to fruition after his grandchildren uncover it and make its publication a reality. Across the years, in the face of hardships and struggles, it is family that keeps them together. Despite the lacerations of political differences, they remain a familial unit and have an immeasurable effect on one another. Regardless of the struggles life throws at a person, having a family tie, and a place to call home, is the most precious and important thing, and this is something both Joseph and John know and understand together.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the midst of running a long-shot political campaign, Democratic political consultant John Simon discovers a 100-year-old manuscript written by his grandfather Joseph—a brilliant young revolutionary whose exile to Siberia by the last czar of Russia is just the beginning of an extraordinary tale of survival, romance, and revolution. Return From Siberia chronicles not only the Simon family’s relationship to each other and the past, but also the remarkable story of a young man who sacrificed everything for his political ideals.
As Joseph’s manuscript is translated, chapter-by-chapter, the Simon family is pulled deep into their ancestor’s story— in particular, the bitter rivalry between two brothers, whose competing visions of the American Dream are played out on the campaign trail and in their lives. Return from Siberia is a timely appraisal of modern politics and society juxtaposed with an inside look into the machinations of a young political mind 100 years ago.
The true story documents an extraordinary time of political upheaval in Russia and Europe just prior to World War I while also drawing parallels to current day American politics and the current philosophical and ideological debates about immigration, Democratic Socialism, and Capitalism. Beyond the deep social, political, and philosophical themes, there is romance, adventure, betrayal, suspense, and the struggles of families today and in yesteryear. Return from Siberia illustrates how one modern family’s connection to the past helps them resolve their future.
Feature image via IOP, Visit the USA