THE LONG WAY HOME
An American Journey from
Ellis Island to the Great War
BY DAVID LASKIN
From the author of The Children's Blizzard comes an epic story of the sacrifice and service of an immigrant generation.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, one-third of the nation's population had been born overseas or had a parent who was an immigrant. At the peak of U.S. involvement in the war, nearly one in five American soldiers was foreign-born. Many of these immigrant soldiers—most of whom had been drafted—knew little of America outside of tight-knit ghettos and backbreaking labor. Yet World War I would change their lives and ultimately reshape the nation itself. Italians, Jews, Poles, Norwegians, Slovaks, Russians, and Irishmen entered the army as aliens and returned as Americans, often as heroes.
In The Long Way Home, award-winning writer David Laskin traces the lives of a dozen men, eleven of whom left their childhood homes in Europe, journeyed through Ellis Island, and started over in a strange land. After detailing the daily realities of immigrant life in the factories, farms, mines, and cities of a rapidly growing nation, Laskin tells the heartbreaking stories of how these men—both conscripts and volunteers—joined the army, were swept into the ordeal of boot camp, and endured the month of hell that ended the war at the Argonne, where they truly became Americans. Those who survived were profoundly altered—and their experiences would shape the lives of their families as well.
Epic, inspiring, and masterfully written, The Long Way Home is the unforgettable true story of the Great War, the world it remade, and the men who fought for a country not of their birth, but which held the hope and opportunity of a better way of life.ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David Laskin was born in New York in 1953 and educated at Harvard College and New College, Oxford. For the past twenty-five years, Laskin has written books and articles on a wide range of subjects, including history, weather, travel, gardens, and the natural world. His most recent book, The Children’s Blizzard, won the Washington State Book Award and the Midwest Booksellers’ Choice Award for Nonfiction. Laskin’s other titles include Braving the Elements: The Stormy History of American Weather, Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals; A Common Life: Four Generations of American Literary Friendship and Influence; and Artists in their Gardens (coauthored with Valerie Easton). A frequent contributor to The New York Times Travel Section, Laskin also writes for the Washington Post, the Seattle Times, and Seattle Metropolitan. He and his wife, Kate O’Neill, the parents of three grown daughters, live in Seattle with their two sweet old dogs.
David Laskin wrote a perfect book for me to review this Memorial Day, THE LONG WAY HOME. Immigration, a hot topic in today’s news, is what our country was built on, When we look back at how our “melting pot” of America began to grow in the late 19th and early 20th century, we find how millions of immigrants flocked to America, including my own father and all my grandparents. Many came to leave behind oppression, poverty, and famine. Many came to make a better life for themselves or their families. In Laskin’s book, he writes of 12 men who became Americans in a more difficult way than most of could ever imagine.
THE LONG WAY HOME follows the lives of 12 men who had been born in Europe, migrated to America and then returned to fight for their new country in World War I. Some actually wound up fighting against the same country they had earlier left. Laskin tells of each immigrant and what their lives in Europe were like before coming to America where they heard “the streets were paved with gold”. They suffered down in steerage to get here from Russia, Norway, Slovakia, Poland, Ireland, and Italy to settle in New England, or the far west, or many to the Lower East Side of New York.
Each of them had to put up with being looked down on and had to prove themselves worthy of being proud American citizens. Some even joined to fight as they thought they could gain their American citizen status that way. Being in the military didn’t grant them instant American respect as it was thought they would be poor candidates for soldiers due to malnutrition and the language barrier. And what of the psychological war they fought against their fellow native-born soldiers who made ethnic comments and insults? How could these men ever become useful military men the army wondered? But they were sent out even if they weren’t properly trained and the story Laskin writes describes their time in the trenches and battles, the horrors they saw, and the heroics they displayed!
David Laskin’s research is amazing. He used diaries, archives, military records, letters, and all kinds of primary sources, including actually meeting two of the men before they died in order to tell the story of these 12 men. He spoke with their families and some men who were in the same battles as these dozen soldiers. Laskin even had an interview with one veteran who was 107 years old. The photographs he was able to assemble just add to his wonderful descriptions, and make these men really come to life in this book. The last part of the book tells of how the men who survived worked their way back into society in their new homeland and what all they did before they died. Some were well into their 90s when they died so don’t think they all died in the war and I ruined the story for you. You will have to read about these fascinating Americans to find out just where they came from, and what they gave our country before they left it for good. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.
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