I’m not sure how a family of Warsaw bakers – my own – ended up in the northeast of England, specifically Sunderland, in England in the 1860s. The family myth – and it is a myth, because we have absolutely no evidence for it – is that they planned to take ship for America, but were dropped off in Sunderland, having been assured it was New York City. Perhaps it was a foggy day. And if it wasn’t, how would they know it wasn’t New York City?
This myth is powerful though. Growing up in Surrey, as I did, will do that to you. Dreaming of other lives is narcotic. And it explains many things to me – why I live in west Cornwall, for instance, where I sometimes imagine I can see New York City, there being no land between us (Jews are not famous for letting go); it explains why, when I am in New York City, I feel peculiarly normal.