FINDING HOME: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE JEWISH FUSGEYERS by Jill Culiner (Sumach), 315 pages, $28.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Silence dogged Jill Culiner's Finding Home project from the start. Her grandfather, one of the Romanian fusgeyers - Jews who trekked on foot out of the country to escape persecution in the early 1900s - wasn't talking. And when she discovered Jacob Finkelstein's detailed memoir and travelled to Romania to retrace his route, literally walking hundeds of miles, almost all vestiges of the fusgeyers - and all Jewry for that matter - had vanished.
But what she did learn reveals a microcosmic slice of Jewish emigrant life. The fusgeyers, theatre artists, gave performances in the villages they visited to raise money for their trek. The fact that they were on foot made their poverty plain - often a problem at borders.
Finding Home also uncovers the extent to which Romania's Communist regime paved over just about everything and how corruption has seeped into almost every facet of post-Communist life. The poverty, the mistrust, people's desperation - it all gives the impression that post-Ceausescu Romania is in deep trouble.
Culiner's photos, purposely blurred so she can twin them with the archival shots she uncovered, don't really work. But Finding Home is a fascinating account of how the hatred of Jews was manifested in Romania and, not incidentally, Canada. Read this and be reminded that that Adolf Hitler did not invent anti-Semitism.
Jill Culiner joins the Jewish Women Writers event at the IV Lounge Monday (June 20). See Readings.