House of Glass: The Story of a 20th-century Jewish Family

April 14, 2023

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

House of Glass by Hadley Freeman is a beautifully written memoir that explores the author’s family history. It specifically focuses on her Jewish great-grandparents, grandmother and great-uncles. The book delves into the lives of this family before, during, and after World War II and the impact that the events of the war had on their lives.

One of the strengths of House of Glass is how Hadley Freeman deftly weaves together the personal stories of her family members with historical events. She does an excellent job setting the scene for each chapter. She provides context for the reader before delving into the personal details of her family members’ lives. This approach allows the reader to fully understand the impact of historical events on the individuals and families they affected.

Hadley Freeman’s writing style is engaging and accessible, making the book easy and enjoyable despite its heavy subject matter. She has a talent for bringing her family members to life on the page, creating vivid and memorable characters. As she shares their stories, it’s clear that she has a deep love and respect for her family. This comes through in her writing.

One of the most compelling aspects of House of Glass is how Freeman explores how her family members responded to the challenges they faced during and after the war. Alex, her great-uncle persuaded his sister, Hadley’s grandmother, Sala/Sara, to escape to the United States before the war. Hadley’s great-uncles remained in France and their stories are all different. Sala gave up everything to survive. Meanwhile, the same brother, Alex Maguy (née Glahs) remained in France and lived the most colourful and ultimately successful career, from fashion to art, with spells fighting for France and as a member of the Resistance. He was captured by The Nazis and escaped from the transport train taking him to a camp. He was friends with both Dior and Picasso. An extraordinary life lived.

House of Glass: The Story of a 20th-century Jewish Family
HENRI, SONIA (Henri’s wife), SARA, CHAYA (the mother), AND JACQUES

The other two brothers were Henri and Jacques. Henri who hid in occupied France but was a talented engineer and ended up having a very successful business. Finally quiet and trusting Jacques who was fiercely patriotic to his adopted country, France. However, he ultimately made the greatest and final sacrifice.

House of Glass is a totally unique story of living in an occupied country and of life in Vichy France. This is the detail of WWII that I knew little about.

Hadley Freeman also touches on how her family members coped with the trauma they experienced during the war. Her grandmother, for example, refused to talk about her experiences and buried them deep inside. It was only because Hadley Freeman found a shoe box in the back of her grandmother’s wardrobe hidden from everyone after her death. Within this box were memorabilia from Sala and her brothers’ lives that inspired Hadley to discover more. We, the reader, are so grateful that she did as this story must be told.

House of Glass is a poignant and powerful reminder of war and persecution’s impact on individuals and families. It is a story that has much resonance now nearly 100 years later. Hadley Freeman’s family history is just one of the countless stories of families torn apart by war and genocide. Her ability to bring their experiences to life is a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit.

Overall, I would highly recommend House of Glass to anyone interested in family history, World War II, or Jewish history. Hadley Freeman’s writing is beautiful and engaging, and her family’s story is one that will stick with you long after you finish the book.

Looking for some reading inspiration? Check out our other book reviews here

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