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Download Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War, by Ian Buruma Click for printable size audiobook cover
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A family history of surpassing beauty and power, Their Promised Land is Ian Buruma’s account of his grandparents’ enduring love through the terror and separation of two world wars.

During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma’s grandparents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other. Their only recourse was to write letters back and forth. And write they did, often every day. In a way they were just picking up where they left off in 1918, at the end of the war that swept Bernard away to some of Europe’s bloodiest battlefields. The thousands of letters between them were part of an inheritance that ultimately came into the hands of their grandson, Ian Buruma. Now, in a labor of love that is also a powerful act of artistic creation, Ian Buruma has woven his own voice in with theirs to provide the context and counterpoint necessary to bring to life their remarkable marriage, a class, and an age.

Winifred and Bernard inherited the high European cultural ideals and attitudes that came of being born into prosperous German-Jewish émigré families. To young Ian, who would visit from Holland every Christmas, they seemed the very essence of England, their spacious Berkshire estate the model of genteel English country life at its most pleasant and refined. It wasn’t until years later that he discovered how much more there was to the story.

At its heart, Their Promised Land is the story of cultural assimilation. The Schlesingers were very British in the way their relatives in Germany were very German, until Hitler destroyed that option. The problems of being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism even in the country they loved were met with a kind of stoic discretion. But they showed solidarity when it mattered most. As the shadows of war lengthened again, the Schlesingers mounted a remarkable effort, which Ian Buruma describes movingly, to rescue twelve Jewish children from the Nazis and see to their upkeep in England.

Many are the books that do bad marriages justice; precious few take readers inside a good marriage. In Their Promised Land, Buruma has done just that, introducing us to a couple whose love was sustaining through the darkest hours of the century.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Carefully and admirably written…Buruma writes of British-born Jews of the upper-middle class with a great, sympathetic perspicacity and sweetness—these are after all his grandparents who are his subject—and, most revealingly, he traces with precision the effect on their lives of being Jews of German origin in their beloved England during the two world wars.”

    Philip Roth, #1 New York Times bestselling author

  • “Buruma…has given us a wholly understanding, moving account of what it meant to be Jewish and English in one of the most troubled times of the last century…Buruma’s voyage into the past is a warning as well as a celebration of lost lives. Somehow we must ensure that our societies allow outsiders to flourish, however they choose to do it.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “Buruma delivers a moving, intimate portrait of his grandparents…In a fluid, novelistic narrative, Buruma not only captures a remarkable marriage, but also a particular segment of English society—assimilated, upper-middle-class Jews…This illuminating story of cultural assimilation and identity will resonate with many readers.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “A beautiful and complex love story that lasted through triumphs and disasters, years of separation, anti-Semitic microaggressions, and social and family pressures. Buruma’s work is well-paced, absorbing, and gives a human face to some of the darkest eras of contemporary European history.”

    Library Journal (starred review)

  • “A prizewinning historian recounts his German-Jewish family’s time in England during the most turbulent years of the twentieth century…Buruma impressively captures his grandparents’ remarkable lives in this insightful narrative. The author shapes his family’s labor of a lifetime into a scintillating work of art.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “A fascinating and memorable personal family story…[A] stirring memoir.”


  • “Ian Buruma has woven an utterly engrossing story of cultivated, upper class German Jews who grew up in England and made its values their own. On the way, he probes anti-Semitism in all its guises and shifting social attitudes. At once family memoir and history, this is a book to linger over and savor.”

    Lisa Appignanesi, author of Trials of Passion

  • A Flavorwire Pick for the 50 Most Anticipated Books of 2016
  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week for January 2016
  • A New York Times Editor’s Choice
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