Out of the Shadows: Family Life and Policy Making in Early Twentieth-Century Europe

Family Politics: Domestic Life, Devastation and Survival, 1900-1950 Paul GinsborgYale University Press, 2014; 444 pages, $35.00 Narratives of modern Europe, argues history professor Paul Ginsborg of the University of Florence, have commonly left families “off stage,” “hidden from history.” In Family Politics, he seeks to insert the story of the European family during the tumultuous first half of the twentieth century “into a wider and deeper general history.” Using both biographi­cal sketches and statistical measures of social change, he focuses on the family life found in five nations especially torn by political and wartime traumas: Russia, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. All but the latter took part in the Great War of 1914 when, to borrow a phrase from Wilfred Owen, “half the seed of Europe” was wiped out. For its part, Spain expe­rienced the devastations of an unusually brutal civil war. In all five cases, the consequence of war, revolution, political unrest, and civil strife was the emergence of dictators: V.I. Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Kemal Atatürk, Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, and Francisco Franco. The result of Ginsborg’s efforts is an admirable, highly readable, and compelling, if sometimes flawed, volume. Using family life as his lens, the author describes in often vivid prose the distinctive tragedies found within his broad subject, including: the Armenian genocide of 1916, where parents were commonly forced to choose which of their children would die first; the Ukrainian famine of 1921, when virtually every child under the age of three perished; the burning of hundreds of churches and the murder of 10,000 Catholic priests, monks, and nuns by Spanish Republicans in 1936, coupled with the destruction of whole family villages by Franco’s vengeful Army of Africa. Ginsborg shows how such woeful incidents derived from “the poisoned chalice” of nineteenth-century European nationalism, what one of his characters called
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