Sasha Abramsky, an international journalist and lecturer in the University Writing Program at UC Davis, has penned a number of nonfiction books (Inside Obama’s Brain and The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives to name just two.)
Great books: informative, well-researched and critically acclaimed. But none enchant as The House of Twenty Thousand Books, his latest tome that invites readers into another world — one that he visited every weekend as a child.
Abramsky invites us into Five Hillway, the London home of his grandparents, Chimen and Miriam Abramsky. “I thought everybody’s grandparents lived in a house of books,” he says.
In-home salon for countless visitors
It was a library of a house where his grandparents lived. There they read, cooked, entertained and educated, holding in-home salons for countless visitors as eager for knowledge as they were.
As readers, we can visit too. Abramsky describes the home in vivid detail — books lined virtually every wall, and bookshelves were doubly stacked. He describes the house after his grandfather died: “When we were opening airing closets — that probably hadn’t been opened in years — we would open the closets and books would fall out.”
There were books, and more books — volumes Chimen often could not reach on his own, given his 5-foot height.
“(We found) posters and Bibles and everything you could imagine, written,” says Abramsky.
Rare socialist library, Jewish history collection
The house contained the rarest socialist library in private hands in the English-speaking world, a vast Jewish history collection and other writings Chimen, himself secular, amassed as an expert on Jewish history.
He was also an expert on Marx and Marxism, and a onetime member of the Communist Party. He had little formal education, but he was so recognized by other scholars that he was eventually invited to teach at Oxford and other universities; he ended his career as a professor at University College London, having taught Jewish studies as it was emerging as a distinct academic discipline in the United Kingdom and the United States
He died in 2010 at age 93, in his book house, clutching a leather-bound Hebrew Bible, according to an obituary.