SPANNING SIX GENERATIONS and three continents, My Name, a Living Memory is a fictionalized saga of author Giorgio van StratenÂs family from the Napoleonic era through World War II. The story begins in Rotterdam in 1811, when Hartog son of Alexander Â father, cucumber salesman, and Dutch Jew Â is forced by Napoleonic edict to choose a last name. He chooses Straaten, the Dutch word for Âstreet.Â
The name presages a journey through history that flings HartogÂs descendants as far afield as San Francisco, London, Odessa, Sao Paolo, and Tbilisi. They witness the Gold Rush, the Russian Revolution, the Stalinist purges, and, finally, the Holocaust. Some are uprooted by business interests, including the authorÂs grandfather, who lost one of the AÂs in his surname en route. As the political climate grows increasingly perilous for Jews throughout Europe, several are forced to flee for their lives, and many fail to return from Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Bergen-Belsen.
Historical fiction of a very personal sort, van Straten weaves his relativesÂ stories together, much as an art restorer reconstructs the missing portions of a fresco, guided by the evidence that remains. A gold watch, a few photographs, crumpled documents and letters, family lore; these are the artifacts from which lives are re-created. In the end, the story of van StratenÂs family can be read as a testament to the rich and varied history and culture of Jews in Europe and the Americas.show more