Out on 06 January 2022

How to Be a Refugee

See more book details
06 January 2022
9781529042863
320 pages
Synopsis

'A lyrical, fascinating, important book. More than just a family story, it is an essay on belonging, denying, pretending, self-deception and, at least for the main characters, survival.' Literary Review

'Simon May's remarkable How to Be a Refugee is a memoir of family secrets with a ruminative twist, one that's more interested in what we keep from ourselves than the ones we conceal from others.' Irish Times

How to Be a Refugee is Simon May’s gripping account of how his mother and his two aunts – who, like their parents, had converted to Christianity – grappled with their Jewish heritage in Hitler’s Germany.

To escape this lethal inheritance, the sisters denied their Jewish origin to the point of erasing almost all consciousness of it. Their very different trajectories included fleeing to London, securing ‘Aryan’ status with high-ranking help from inside Hitler’s regime, and marrying into the German aristocracy. Even after Hitler had been defeated, they were still in flight from that heritage. May, too, was raised a Catholic and forbidden to identify as Jewish or German or British.

May’s haunting quest to uncover the lives of the three sisters, as well as the secrets of a grandfather he never knew, forcefully illuminates the extraordinary lengths to which people will go to survive.

A lyrical, fascinating, important book. More than just a family story, it is an essay on belonging, denying, pretending, self-deception and, at least for the main characters, survival.

Julia Neuberger, Literary Review

Simon May's remarkable How to Be a Refugee is a memoir of family secrets with a ruminative twist, one that's more interested in what we keep from ourselves than the ones we conceal from others . . . May's large cast of characters shows with dizzying variety the human ability to live in a state of constant flight from horror, long after the shooting stops. His broad and intriguing book suggests that these survivors were exiled not just from time and place, but also from themselves.

John Phipps, Irish Times Weekend

Simon May was raised in Britain as a Catholic, but was forbidden to identify as British. Neither was he allowed to identify as Jewish or German, despite his family’s origins. After one of his aunts reveals the truth about his father’s death, May embarks on a quest to uncover his family’s true history: a story of steadfast denial of their Jewish heritage through extraordinary means in order to escape the fate of Jewish people living in Hitler’s Germany.

Hannah Beckerman, Observer