In a letter to his baby grandson, Bill Lazarre wrote that “unfortunately, despite the attempts by your grandpa and many others to present you with a better world, we were not very successful.” Born in 1902 amid the pogroms in Eastern Europe, Lazarre dedicated his life to working for economic equality, racial justice, workers’ rights to name just a few of his goals. He was also dedicated to his family, especially his daughters, whom he raised as a single father following his wife’s death. In this highly nuanced and sensitively written book, Jane Lazarre weaves personal memories with documentary materials—such as her father’s massive FBI file—to tell his fascinating history as a communist, a Jew, and a husband, father, and grandfather.
Soon after immigrating to the United States as a young man, Lazarre began a long career as a radical activist. He held leadership positions in the American Communist Party, fought in the Spanish Civil War, organized labor unions, and testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee where he refused to name names. He was convicted of sedition, and resisted the FBI’s efforts to recruit him as an informant. Through periods of heroism and deep despair, Bill Lazarre never abandoned his ideals or his sustained faith in the fundamental goodness of people.
His daughter Jane—a novelist (an excerpt from her novel, Inheritance, appeared in Lilith), essay writer, teacher—weaves her own story into the one she writes about him. She examines the nature of memory, grief, love, and conscience while detailing the sacrifices, humanity, and unwavering convictions of the exceptional man who shaped her.
Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough posed some questions to Lazarre about the impact she hopes her book will have and its relevance in our own politically turbulent time.