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Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany Hardcover – January 7, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Mounk’s family was devastated by the Holocaust; those who survived were scattered across Europe after WWII. Yet Mounk’s immediate family carved out an existence in their native Poland, most as loyal Communists, until anti-Semitic party purges in the 1960s and ’70s led them to settle in Germany, where Mounk was born, in 1982. As a young Jew growing up in postwar Germany, his revelation to friends and acquaintances of his Jewish identity elicited a variety of responses, some predictable and some surprising. Some people were openly hostile, spouting blatantly racist screeds. Others reacted with what is best termed sullen silence, while others felt compelled to overreact with a stance of exaggerated philo-Semitism. More recently, Mounk has detected a shift in attitudes of many Germans, which has broad implications beyond relations with Jews. He perceives a sense that Germans feel that their “guilt” has been expiated by the passage of time, which results in a rise of German nationalism within Europe, unapologetic hostility to immigrants, and even a reassertion of claims of German “victimization.” --Jay Freeman

Review

“[Mounk's] book combines anecdote and analysis in a witty and engaging manner that belies his deeply serious purpose.” --Daniel Johnson, The Wall Street Journal

“Informative and entertaining . . . What is it like to be a Jew in Germany in the postwar era? What would lead even a handful of Jews to choose to make their lives in the country that was responsible for the Holocaust? And how did the descendants of the perpetrators treat the descendants of the victims? These are the questions at the heart of Mounk’s book, which starts out as a memoir but evolves into something more like a history and a polemic. Accessibly written and full of humor, Stranger in My Own Country uses Mounk’s own experiences to shed light on postwar German history and current German politics.” --Adam Kirsch, Tablet

“How do things stand with German Jews [today]? In Stranger in My Own Country, Yascha Mounk gives an artful and thoughtful answer . . . Mounk’s personal anecdotes do a lot to make his mindset understandable, but he also deals with the big picture. The best feature of his fine book is how he interweaves macro and micro levels of discussion. He does this, moreover, in graceful prose, which helps to showcase his talent for disentangling paradoxes in original ways.” --Paul Reitter, Bookforum

“[Mounk] is a gifted raconteur and aphorist, and if you want to learn about Germany's preverse, absurd love for its Jews—the flip side, or the bastard child, of its historical anti-Semitism—this book is a fine place to start . . . Mr. Mounk skillfully puts Germans and Jews on his analyst's couch . . . There is an adage, usually attributed to an Israeli psychoanalyst, that the Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz. If you want to understand how that can be, read this book.” --Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times

“Mounk’s account, one of the first on this subject addressed to a general English-speaking readership, is an intriguing and sometimes disturbing glimpse into an aspect of Jewish life of which most American Jews may not be aware.” --Martin Green, Jewish Book Council

“[A] rich and remarkable memoir . . . Mounk’s engaging and provocative book amounts to a kind of intellectual and emotional self-portrait of the author himself and, at the same time, a historical and cultural profile of post-war Germany.” --Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal

“In Stranger in My Own Country, Yascha Mounk compellingly illustrates how 'the Jewish question' continues to shape public consciousness and everyday interactions in modern Germany, not least among Gentiles afflicted with the 'philo-Semitism of good intentions.' Deftly interweaving political history and personal experience, Mounk argues convincingly that excessive guilt can be no less toxic than disavowal when it come to reckoning honestly with the past. His book offers no easy answers to those seeking liberation from the burdens of history, and indeed shows how dangerous and misguided this impulse can be.” --Eyal Press, author of Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times

“Clear, unpretentious, wide-ranging, and touching, Stranger in My Own Country is a story about the patience and the courage necessary for reconciliation. As perspicacious in its argument as it is moving in its anecdote, it's the one book that ought to be read by everybody who suspects there's nothing left to say about the Jews and the Germans. It marks the debut of a writer we'll be likely—and lucky—to count among the most useful of our public intellectuals.” --  Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and Hopeful

“A solid combination of moving personal saga and thought-provoking research.” --Kirkus

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374157537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374157531
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Not necessarily being religious.
Sivan Sincere
I found it took me a while to read because it was thought provoking.
Joyce C Rosenblatt
Written with ample personal anecdotes and humor.
A.H. Cwirko-Godycki

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Joel on January 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
A smart and fascinating study of an impossible situation told in the context of Mounk's own experiences growing up in Germany: Germans and Jews trying against all odds to figure out how to be normal with one another, and failing. Not, as Mount takes pains to point out, for want of trying, but the historical legacy, with all its attendant ambivalence, guilt and resentment, is just too overwhelming to be overcome with mere goodwill. Mounk's survey of the ongoing tensions emanating from the Nazi past extend beyond autobiography to German cultural life (e.g., Martin Walser, Günter Grass) and public policy (debates on participation in NATO- or U.S.-supported wars, demands on the weaker economies within the EU). - You have to feel sorry for the Germans, who can't seem to win for losing. (Mounk is careful to emphasize, however, that white Americans, with our own painful history and fraught race relations, have no reason to be smug.) While reading this book, I learned from the newspaper that some 30,000 Israelis, mainly young people, are now living in Berlin, which got me to wondering whether the problems Mounk describes are to some extent trumped by the "normalcy" of being Israeli. - I found the most moving section of the book to be Mounk's description of German Chancellor Willy Brandt's falling to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto monument in 1970: "For one long moment there is no movement. Faces freeze. Nobody breathes. After an eternity, Brandt's breath becomes visible: he exhales, perhaps surprised by his own gesture, undoubtedly relieved to have done justice to the occasion. He, who has no personal guilt, has issued a moving plea for forgiveness. He, who need not apologize to anybody, has kneeled on behalf of those who dare not or cared not to. It was a gesture that did as much for Germany's reconciliation with the victims of the Third Reich as thirty years [1949 - 1970?] of democratic rule."
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Hessel on January 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Highly recommended! Mounk is a fantastic writer: clear and concise, but able to convey a full depth of emotion and detail. The story is fascinating, and extremely important for anyone who wants to understand what it is like to be a secular Jew in post-war Germany (and, indeed, Europe).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Jay Friedman on February 13, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The book takes on interest when the author personalizes the material. Otherwise spotty unless you're interested in slow changes in the German government.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sivan Sincere on March 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While the discussion about Jews in Germany seems insightful, the author doesn't really understand what identity means in the US where it is usually not forced on an individual. I think there is a sense of being damaged by growing up in a country which always see you as an "other." To choose freely ones own identity should be respected by others. To choose to be a cultural Jew, contrary to what the author believes, means feeling a connection with the history and the religion. Not necessarily being religious. This discussion is a personal memoir of why the author chooses New York over Germany. I can't fault him for that. But it's value is it it's insights about Germany. He really does not understand enough about the US and New York to explain exactly what he is identifying with.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By hmf22 on January 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Yascha Mounk's Stranger in My Own Country is a rare, searching, bluntly honest account of the experience of living as a Jew in modern Germany. Beginning with his grandparents' generation, Mounk recounts the entwined histories of his own family and the country of his birth. As Mounk frankly acknowledges, he is an ethnic Jew and not in any way a religious one, so his Jewish identity has developed almost entirely from his grandparents' experience of the Holocaust and his own experience of growing up as a conspicuous, isolated minority in a country deeply (sometimes swaggeringly, sometimes skittishly) uneasy about its past. The book is tilted more heavily towards political history, and less towards personal memoir, than I anticipated from the subtitle and reviews, and that was a bit of a disappointment to me; I thought Mounk's own meditations were the best parts of the book. Still, it's a very compelling exploration of his theme.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By T. King on February 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The title implies that the narration will be about a German-Jewish family, when in fact it is about one man whose mother was Polish-Jewish and immigrated into Germany. We learn nothing of his father. The book is really about German politics post-war and gives a recounting of national history that anyone in an introductory German history course would already know. Mixed into the national history is the author's own anti-German opinion. The entire book is contrite, one-sided and simplistic, especially for a Harvard-educated writer.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Richard Zepel on February 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good story with poor writing style. The book was interesting but it no way told or reflected anything at all about Jewish life today inGermany. It was more a story of what it is like to be different ethnically. The conclusions of the last chapter were so far from reality. There are literally millions of examples of people reacting differently when you share you are Jewish. His conclusion at the end are true in New York, etc.,but certainly not here im the Bible Belt. Noting at all in the book about Jewish life RELIGIOUSLY in modern day Germany. Poor choice of title and poor writing style - vet jumbled and non sequential.
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Format: Hardcover
Judging from the title I had expected a more personal memoir. Instead, the main thrust of this book is the political history of Germany from 1945 to the present, as seen through the eyes of a German who has a decidedly left-leaning slant. As such, Stranger in my own country: A Jewish family in modern Germany is a well-written synopsis of the recent political and sociological history of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I do take issue with some of the facts, however. On page 95 the author mentions that it wasn’t until the showing of the NBC miniseries “Holocaust” in January 1979 “that an understanding of the gruesome nature of the Holocaust really hit home in ‘Middle Germany’.” Granted, in the years following WWII, the German history taught in schools started with the Stone Age and ended in 1918. Yet, from my own personal experience, I know that, at least in West Germany, it was “The Third Reich,” a fourteen-part documentary, which aired at two-week intervals on Friday nights during prime time between October 21, 1960 and May 19, 1961, which started a long national conversation and soul-searching about the Holocaust. Like most people I knew, my family didn’t miss a single episode.

Interspersed throughout the book and, to me, the most interesting aspects of Stranger in my own country, are the personal encounters Yascha Mounk has with non-Jewish Germans, who, out of blatant ignorance and narrow-mindedness, ask him awkward and embarrassing questions or, alternatively, who lean over backwards to be overly nice to him. I would have loved more details and more dialogue between Yascha Mounk and those persons. I was also left wondering wonder whether the author’s mother had similar experiences since she chose to stay in Germany when her son decided to move to New York.
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