In The Man Who Swam Into History; The (Mostly) True Story of My Jewish Family,1 a quintessentially diasporic memoir-as-novel of the ‘old country’ fused with the ‘new’, author Robert Rosenstone reminds us that personal stories handed down from one generation to the next take on an afterlife that continues to breathe through the lifeblood of progeny. Rosenstone’s tales unfold as follows:

It is a little-noted fact of history that the rivers of Eastern Europe were jammed with swimmers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Not one grandfather but a whole generation of grandfathers sidling, walking, waddling, hurrying, moseying, lurching, striding, flinging, leaping, jumping, tiptoeing, plunging, screaming themselves into previously empty waters. They were not yet grandfathers, but somehow the image is of aged men, dressed fully in black, yarmulkes affixed firmly to their scalps, long white beards floating miraculously and gently on the surface as they flash toward far-off shores … In later years, none of these grandfathers were ever known to go near the water … Decades later they were full of foolish tales, babbled in languages that grandsons neither understood nor cared much about. But each grandfather had this one moment of undisputed triumph that would quietly resonate through future generations.2