What You Did Not Tell

A Russian Past and the Journey Home

Publication Date: Oct 17, 2017

336 pp


ISBN: 978-1-59051-909-7


List Price US $25.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 978-1-59051-907-3

A warm and intimate memoir by an acclaimed historian that explores the European struggles of the twentieth century through the lives, hopes, and dreams of a single family—his own.

Uncovering his family’s remarkable and moving stories, Mark Mazower recounts the sacrifices and silences that marked a generation and their descendants. It was a family that fate drove into the siege of Stalingrad, the Vilna ghetto, occupied Paris, and even into the ranks of the Wehrmacht. His British father was the lucky one, the son of Russian Jewish emigrants who settled in London after escaping civil war and revolution. Max, the grandfather, had started out as a socialist and manned the barricades against tsarist troops, but never spoke of it. His wife, Frouma, came from a family ravaged by the Great Terror yet somehow making their way in Soviet society.

In the centenary of the Russian Revolution, What You Did Not Tell recounts a brand of socialism erased from memory: humanistic, impassioned, and broad-ranging in its sympathies. But it also explores the unexpected happiness that may await history’s losers, the power of friendship, and the love of place that allowed Max and Frouma’s son to call England home.

Excerpt from What You Did Not Tell

A leading anarchist called Rudolf Rocker once wrote in his recollections of the political exiles he had known in turn-of-the-century London that they were taciturn men, disinclined to talk much, and Max was of that kind: his wife, Frouma, called him zhivotik—“little stomach”—because words stayed down there and rarely made their way up into his mouth. He had no difficulty with languages—he spoke four fluently, and his English was impeccable, with no trace of an accent. But Max had learned to say no more than was necessary in any of them.

He belonged to the same generation as Vladimir Lenin, Menshevik leader Julius Martov, and the future Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov, and his path had almost certainly intersected with theirs because when he had entered business in the years before the First World War, working for a Russian shipping firm in the city of Vilna, he had simultaneously been involved in running an underground socialist movement. Its full name was the Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland—the General Jewish Workers Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia—but it was known simply as the Bund. Today it has been almost entirely forgotten: its language, Yiddish, barely survives, and the people who supported it—the Jewish working classes of the Russian Pale of Settlement—were mostly wiped out in the war. Yet in its time the Bund played an absolutely critical role in the birth of leftwing party politics in the tsarist empire. Leading a double life as a merchant’s bookkeeper and revolutionary agitator, Max had learned early on the value of those habits of caution, silence, and mistrust that were necessary for survival. He never forgot them—or the loyalties he grew up with. To the end of his life Max was not just a man of the Left: he was a Bundist.

“Mark Mazower is a great historian and a subtle writer always attentive to humane detail.” —Orhan Pamuk, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature

“Within the experience of a single family can be seen the forces that shaped whole nations and peoples…There comes a moment in every historian’s life when his thoughts turn homeward, away from grand clashes and epic struggles. Who were they, my people, the flesh of my flesh? What currents of history shaped them, inspired them, traumatized them, destroyed them? In ‘What You Did Not Tell,’ Mark Mazower, a distinguished British-born historian, explores the story of his own family, especially that of his paternal grandparents, Jews who emerged at the turn of the 20th century from the poverty and backwardness of the Russian provinces into the ferment of socialist struggle and, eventually, into the turmoil of the wider world.” —Wall Street Journal 

What You Did Not Tell is a well-told story of flight from political turmoil and readjustment to new surroundings, and an eloquent meditation on how we carry our history with us over many generations.” —Lorien Kite, Financial Times, Top 10 Books of the Year

“An enchanting, beautifully written memoir of his ancestors’ experiences of 19th – and 20th – century Europe…What You Did Not Tell is pitched in a haunting, elegiac key, but there is great pleasure to be taken from how Mazower constructs his tale. Above all, the book is an undeclared tribute to the historian’s tradecraft….There are few historians who can write as grippingly as Mazower about secrets and the painstaking work of revealing them.” —Financial Times

“…unusual and exceptionally interesting…[Mazower] excavates, through rigorous research and tenacious sleuthing, the history of a family whose lives spanned the entire twentieth century, and whose fates were closely interwoven with its many ideological terrors and violent upheavals.” —New York Review of Books

“Memory and secrets, how they are buried and how they can be unearthed, lie at the heart of Mark Mazower’s fascinating and scholarly reconstruction of a family’s life and the myriad relations, friends, acquaintances, places, houses, and adventures that spin out from it. Mazower is a distinguished historian of 20th-century Europe and he brings to his digging the doggedness and meticulousness of the obsessive researcher…All this evidence put together offers not simply a biographical narrative, but, woven into it, a vast and rich picture of leftwing European Jewry throughout the 20th century…What You Did Not Tell is proof of what historical research can yield, providing you have the determination, skill and boundless curiosity to pursue it to the bitter end. But it is also an affectionate portrait of a family whose members Mazower got to know, love and respect more and more as he discovered things that reticence, modesty and an instinctive need for silence had kept resolutely hidden. These were good and generous people, warm and accepting, whose fight for justice was based on their own personal knowledge of poverty and exploitation.” Guardian

“Mark Mazower’s elegiac and arresting family memoir starts in the violence and tumult of pre-revolutionary Russia, and comes to rest in the quiet suburbs of north London…From the trauma and complexity of his family’s past, Mazower extracts a tale ‘not so much about suffering…as about resilience and tenacity,’ summed up in a loving portrait of his late father, a man who found peace in Highgate, blending the culture of exiled Russian Jewry with the embracing values of interwar England. Bill Mazower, his son writes, had a capacity for taking ‘pleasure in the small things.’ In the wake of the vast things that rent his Russian family and sent his forebears into flight, that is a fine and moving epitaph.” —The Times (UK) 

“This is historical story-telling at its very best.” —Standpoint Magazine

“A simultaneously sweeping and intimate family portrait.” —Kirkus Reviews

“After discovering his grandfather’s work as an agent for the Jewish socialist Bund, Mazower, a Columbia University historian, explored the efforts people later took to hide their involvement in the revolution. Through the story of his grandfather, Mazower reconstructs the history of this largely forgotten Jewish socialist group that, he writes, was instrumental to the revolution’s success.” —Publishers Weekly

“Mazower illuminates Russian revolutionary politics and émigré life in Britain in this fascinating family history… Readers of family histories and those with an interest in the Jewish Labour Bund will appreciate this book.” —Library Journal

“Vivid.” —RTÉ

“Remarkable.” New Statesman

“A deeply personal book, but one that will resonate with many readers, particularly those grappling with a fraught heritage.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune 

What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home by Mark Mazower is an eloquently written rhapsody on the art of remembering. It is rhapsodic both in the primary sense of the word, in that it is a chronicle exuding a certain air of poetry and exalted, almost epic feeling, and in the more literal sense of being a fabric of words, facts, events and lifelines retrieved from memory and archive and stitched together to form a long-silenced record of a life, an era, a time in human thought and action…a powerful, intimate approach to a momentous slice of history.”Bookanista 

What You Did Not Tell is a memoir that only one of our finest historians could have written. To call it a ‘memoir’ even is to represent only a small part of Mazower’s investigation into his family’s past. This is a saga of cities—Vilna, Moscow, Paris, London and New York—and a profound meditation on what it takes to call a place home. It spans more than a century and sheds sparkling light on the Bundists, the first mass Marxist party in Russian history. It is history made intimate, history made personal—a story of idealism, exile, revolution and defeat. One of the great thrills of What You Did Not Tell is to behold Mazower’s deep knowledge of Europe meld with his own ancestral past.” —Michael Greenberg, author of Hurry Down Sunshine

“While reminding the reader of the original romantic principles of socialism, this absorbing memoir explores the complexity of what it means to call a new country home and to gradually change nationality and identity. Anyone interested in the Jewish experience of Bundist Russia prior to 1939 will be especially enthralled. Highly recommended.” —Mira Rosenfeld Sennett, Peninsula Public Library, Lawrence, NY