I was born in a world where the past had more meaning than the future. The shining promise offered to others by the new day meant nothing to us. Our golden age lay behind us and was wrapped in deep silence. Oddly enough, no one in the family talked about the fates of our many family members, either because no one could bear to relive the past or simply because everyone wanted to shield us children from the suffering of the Spinozas throughout the ages. We’d been struck by so many misfortunes.
We’d been dogged by disaster as far back as anyone could remember. Almost everything that happened in the world turned out to be disastrous for us. The Middle Ages. The Enlightenment. The French Revolution. Emancipation. World wars. Catholicism. Nazism. Communism. Liberalism.
Life in our family was based on principles that had never offered us security in the past and might always be subject to attack in the future. We were secular Jews who’d lost contact with traditional concepts of our faith and customs, Jews who never put down roots wherever we were living. That’s why we were forever excluded from the benefits of joining any other community.
If it hadn’t been for my great-uncle, a man who actually had no blood ties to us, Sasha and I would have grown up in that tyranny of silence. But Fernando knew how to conjure up our hidden legends and all the events and history that lay concealed deep within our genes, and he brought our heritage to life for us with his epic talent for storytelling. I’m convinced he understood what our family’s willful suppression of our story was doing to us children, and he wanted to infuse us with vital force and courage by giving my twin brother and me something to be proud of: strong roots. That was why he taught us that the events themselves were to blame. None of it was our fault.