After her grandchildren — twin girls — were born 12 years ago and she became a grandmother for the first time, Lorraine Abramson started thinking about her own, long-gone grandparents.
Growing up in South Africa during the heart of the apartheid era, Abramson, a prominent amateur athlete and member of a Jewish (i.e., white) family, knew three of her grandparents, who had grown up in Eastern Europe in a time of open anti-Semitism.
They had led entirely different lives than she did.
Robert Vishniak grew up on a Northeast Philadelphia street lined with identical narrow row houses, with clotheslines laced between them, canvas work shirts flapping in the wind. It was part of the Oxford Circle neighborhood of Sharon Pomerantz’s first novel “Rich Boy” (Twelve), which was crowded with Vishniak relatives and others who kept few secrets. Robert’s father shuttled between two jobs, as a postal worker and security guard; his mother ferried school kids to safety as a crossing guard; and Robert determined to have a very different life.
Back in 2006, journalist Joshua Foer found himself seated on a stage in the Con Ed headquarters in New York City, wearing earmuffs over earplugs, sweating as he flipped through two decks of shuffled playing cards in order to memorize their order.