Letters To Auntie Fori
By Martin Gilbert
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (hardback), 2002
I found this book by pure chance when I was searching on Amazon.co.uk for another of Sir Martin Gilbert's historical books. It looked interesting and I have not regretted buying it, despite its size and the space it takes on my desperately overloaded bookshelves! Running to 460 pages in the hardback version, this is a massive book both physically and in its scope as it covers the 5,000 year history of the Jewish people.
Just how the letters to Auntie Fori started is fascinating; Martin Gilbert knew her son from his time at Oxford University and when he visited New Delhi, he was urged to visit Mrs B. K. Nehru, and they became friends. It was only many, many years later, at Auntie Fori's 90th birthday celebrations in 1998 that she mentioned to him that she was in fact Hungarian and Jewish herself, though her knowledge of the history and practice of her faith was very limited as she had not been a particularly observant Jewess in her youth. She wanted to learn more but could not find a book which would tell her exactly what she wanted to know, and so Martin Gilbert began a series of letters - 140 in total - outlining the history of the Jewish people around the world and their religious practices.
Reform Judaism does seem to have been rather skated over lightly, which I found a little surprising, and the actual religious practices of Judaism were only really touched upon, being covered from letter 104 onwards,but I found it all fascinating and read it slowly over a period of months, a few letters at a time.