The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War
by David Laskin
Hardcover, 416 pages
Harper Collins Publishers
In a time like this, of protracted wars and rushed immigration debate, David Laskin's "The Long Way Home" invites us to look for wisdom in our collective past. Laskin, a well known writer/scholar with the intellectual appetite of a renaissance man, appears not to be that much into any type of politics. But his story-telling manages to ring all sort of bells in the ears of whom are reading beyond his words.
"The Long Way Home" follows the story of 12 immigrants that landed in the US right before World War I and were drafted or volunteered to serve in all branches of the US Armed Forces. Laskin has researched throughly and written each story with exquisite detail and with the literary skill that only gifted writers can deliver. The stories themselves are heartbreaking and sometimes is difficult not to break a tear at the miseries and struggles these men had to endure even before becoming teenagers. The accounts of the immigration process (embarkation, travel and reception in New York) are the best I ever read in any book. I could almost hear the chit-chat of nervous immigrants worried about being turned back to their home countries. Laskin's superb narratives of the Great War took me by surprise. To my knowledge, this is the author's first book dealing with a military subject and he doesn't depart from the tone or depth he started with. Off course there is not an analysis of every battle he refers to, but there is enough context to understand it. The battle narratives had me thinking about these men for days. This book deserves to share the same shelf with other WWI military history books.
There are very short references in this book about the influence of immigration in America's recent wars. I was expecting that to be the case. This is not a book to feed the short sighted debate the country is about to engage on. This is a book about what is to be an American by choice. I am sure that no matter where the current frenzy leads us to, after the waters settle down, this book will be one of the top ones to come back to.
Laskin has brought up in me emotions and thoughts I had forgotten for years. I am from a family of compulsive immigrants and I am an immigrant myself. I heard from my late grandfather (an Italian who immigrated to Argentina just before WWII) many similar stories than the ones I read in this book. Like Laskin's story of the immigrant mother passing to her kids pieces of stale bread rubbed on a garlic clove (so it would have some sort of flavor). I knew these stories were true, but reading them thousand of miles from where I was born it certainly strikes a chord. I had it too easy grandpa, but I promise I will become a good American ... almost as good as you were an Argentine.