A millionaire, a magician, a fashion designer, a doctor. Dreams fulfilled and fractured. Reading like a novel, this book on my family’s history is written from the points of view of sixteen different people: my great-grandparents and grandparents, my parents, my brother and me. Jewish European and Chinese immigrant families converge in California. Sixteen Stories will explore how culture is preserved — or diluted — after immigration, and how one person’s life and decisions affect the next generation.

I never would have dreamed that I would stand in my great-grandfather’s ancestral home in southern China, or that I would unearth documents from the 1800’s listing all the siblings of another great-grandfather we hardly knew anything about.

These astonishing and surprisingly emotional experiences moved me to further research and start writing a book, called Sixteen Stories, featuring my eight great-grandparents, four grandparents, parents, my brother, and myself. Each story is written in the first person through the eyes of a different person, taking the reader to a specific year between 1895 and 2015, and to a different place: China, Poland, Russia, Latvia, California, Nevada, London.

Every person’s chapter is rich with the details of the specific cultural and historic context. You will discover how one story shapes the next: how one person’s own history and character affect others, sometimes as an inspiration, and sometimes provoking tragedy.

While this is a deeply personal project, my aim is for it to be a touching and intriguing work which speaks to all readers through its universal human truths.

The Stories

Of the sixteen people portrayed in the book, only three are still alive: my father, brother and me. My great-grandfather, Joe Shoong, is known as one of the first Chinese American millionaires. In the photo below, he is standing next to his grandson, my uncle, who is crying while holding a birthday cake, in front of my mother as a young girl.

Another great-grandfather, Sygmunt Postman, was born north west of Warsaw, Poland, into a Jewish family. He died young, just a few weeks before his only child, my grandfather, was born. Here is a photo of the dapper man from the late 1800s.

The research itself is ongoing and is taking me on a fascinating journey. In fact, one of the Perks available is a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the research and writing process — a treasure trove of genealogy, historic and literary research. You can see some of the source material in the photo below.

Chapter Outline

EPILOGUE
1. Me, England, 2015
2. My brother, China, 2015

DREAM
3. Zygmunt (my great-grandfather), Poland, 1895
4. Song (my great-grandfather), China, 1895
5. Annie (my great-grandmother), New York, 1895
6. Esther (my great-grandmother), Los Angeles, 1915
7. Israel (my great-grandfather), Salt Lake City, 1915

BUILD
8. Yetta (my grandmother), Los Angeles, 1935
9. Rose (my great-grandmother), Oakland, 1935
10. Henri (my great-grandfather), Oakland, 1955
11. Harry (my grandfather), Los Angeles, 1955
12. Mary (my great-grandmother), Oakland, 1975

COLLAPSE
13. My mother, Reno, 1975
14. Milt (my grandfather), Los Angeles, 1995

TRANSCEND
15. Corri (my grandmother), Moss Beach, 1995
16. My father, Reno, 1995

 

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