Letters To Auntie Fori: The Story Of The Jewish People

“Auntie Fori wanted to learn the history of the people to whom she belonged, but from whom, sixty-seven years earlier she had moved away, to the heat and dust and challenges of India. I told her that as soon as I was back in Britain I would write to her, setting out each week, in letter form, a segment of the Jewish story, stating with Abraham, or perhaps with Adam. Two and a half years later the last letter was put into the post. Auntie Fori was then ninety-two.

“My hope is that the Jewish story, despite its moments of sadness, internal divisions, war and suffering – sometimes terrible suffering – would reveal the tenacity of her people’s survival and achievement, its communal life and creativity, and the attempt by each generation to follow the advice which Moses transmitted from God to the Children of Israel, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy: ‘I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.’ The injunction ‘choose life’ became the Jewish religious, communal and national imperative. These letters to my Indian aunt trace its course through five thousand years.”

Book Excerpt:

“Jewish philanthropists, and uncounted numbers of ordinary Jewish families who respond repeatedly for appeals for funds, have been at the forefront of providing the financial resources needed by the State of Israel to absorb the influx of needy immigrants, most recently from Ethiopia, from Albania – with the collapse of Communism there in 1989 – and from Bosnia. Wherever violence and civil war threaten, Jews seek to leave. In 1995, as a member of a British Joint Israel Appeal mission, I accompanied a group of Jews from Chechnya by bus across part of the North Caucasus and then by plane from Russia to Israel: they had no resources of their own to make the journey.”

What the readers say

During Auntie Fori's last days, her son Aditya Nehru wrote:

"She was well almost to the very end; I read her 3 letters of Martin's Letters to Auntie Fori the night before she died.  She wanted to finish the book 'before she went', but I was purposely dallying, and though we were at Letter 129, I told her, on Anil's suggestion, that I don't finish, that there were still 20 letters left."

What the author says

“Many non-religious, non-spiritual events have filled Jewish history, as in these pages, and continue to inspire and also bedevil Jewish life, but the 'main event', if I can call it that, is the religion: God's promise to Moses and to his 'chosen people' – chosen to carry out commands and moral imperatives, and to adhere to ethical codes that are ancient, yet modern and comprehensive.”

What the press say

“An elegantly readable story of the Jewish people, all the way from Adam and Eve to the current conflicts in the Middle East …. Gilbert loves stories and tells them well …. There are many Jewish histories, but this is the most engaging I have read … the delights are in the unexpected details …. There are some memorable vignettes here, among them a splendid chapter on the Jews of China … fascinating account of Jewish life in India …. This is a story of Jewish continuity and creativity, a message of hope from one of the great historians of our time.” Jonathan Sacks, The Times

“ … wide-ranging in scope and enables Gilbert to display his talent for richly-detailed narrative …. Gilbert shows special appreciation for day-to-day realities …. The book's special flavor and tone result from Gilbert's unabashed love for, and identification with, his subject … readers get a sense of the tremendous variety of personalities, events, and conflicts that comprise the history of the Jewish people. … a stunning work. It is everything anyone can ask from a one-volume survey of Jewish history and faith.” Shalom Freedman, Jerusalem Post

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  • Translations: Bulgarian, Chinese, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese
  • Maps: 13
  • Formats: E-book, Paperback, Hardback
  • ISBN: 978-0-00-639501-0