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Their Promised Land

My Grandparents in Love and War

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Ian Buruma's maternal grandparents, Bernard and Winifred (Bun & Win), wrote to each other regularly throughout their life together. The first letters were written in 1915, when Bun was still at school at Uppingham and Win was taking music lessons in Hampstead. They were married for more than sixty years, but the heart of their remarkable story lies within the span of the two world wars.

After a brief separation, when Bernard served as a stretcher bearer on the Western Front during the Great War, the couple exchanged letters whenever they were apart. Most of them were written during the Second World War and their correspondence is filled with vivid accounts of wartime activity at home and abroad. Bernard was stationed in India as an army doctor, while Win struggled through wartime privation and the Blitz to hold her family together, including their eldest son, the later film director John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Sunday Bloody Sunday), and twelve Jewish children they had arranged to be rescued from Nazi Germany.

Their letters are a priceless record of an assimilated Jewish family living in England throughout the upheavals of the twentieth century and a moving portrait of a loving couple separated by war. By using their own words, Ian Buruma has created a spellbinding homage to the sustaining power of a family's love and devotion through very dark days

From Publishers Weekly

02 November 2015 – Buruma (Year Zero: A History of 1945) delivers a moving, intimate portrait of his grandparents, Bernard and Winifred "Win" Schlesinger (the parents of film director John Schlesinger, of Midnight Cowboy fame), through a close reading of their correspondence from 1915 to 1945. 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. He shows his grandparents as "outsiders who were insiders too," whose enthusiastic embrace of English culture, if seemingly excessive at times, reflected gratitude that England, unlike their parents' birthplace of Germany, didn't betray its Jewish citizens. The excerpted letters depict Bernard and Win during their first courtship, interrupted by his service in France in WWI; during her days at Cambridge and his at Oxford; and during their later separation during WWII, when Win saw how life carried on as usual in London even as England's fate "was being decided in the skies," and Bernard, an Army doctor, witnessed the Empire's waning days in India. Buruma depicts his grandparents "with all their doubts and contradictions" as well as their "generosity of spirit," which extended to their rescue of 12 Jewish children from Nazi Germany and hosting two German POWs for Christmas in 1946. This illuminating story of cultural assimilation and identity will resonate with many readers.

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Their Promised Land
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  • £5.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biography
  • Published: 19 January 2016
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books
  • Print Length: 309 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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