Rachael Cerrotti always knew her grandmother, Hana, had a fascinating story, but it wasn’t until she was 20 and an aspiring photojournalist that she began trying to explore it.
She began with a modest goal: “to make a book for the family; to digitize the photos and tell the stories.” A year or two into it, Cerrotti felt that the book would fit into the travel section; it would be a book about traveling to find your family’s roots. But it kept growing.
A decade later, “We Share the Same Sky: A Memoir of Memory and Immigration” tells a full story of Hana’s fleeing Nazis, living as a stateless refugee, and finally immigrating to the United States, the sole survivor of a Czech Jewish family.
Over the years, Cerrotti, a native of Boston, traveled and talked to hundreds of people, many of whom didn’t end up in the book but whose stories nonetheless contributed to it context. “History is not lived in a vacuum, but often it’s told in a vacuum,” she said. The book grew to include her own personal stories of love, marriage, and widowhood, which she included because, she said, “if we want history to feel relevant we have to talk about it in first-person narratives.”
As she worked on the book, Cerrotti found herself concerned about the changing times, new refugee crises, and the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
She hopes, she said, that readers will include grandparents and grandchildren. “I really wanted it to hit those intergenerational spaces.” Above all, Cerrotti added, “I’m really hoping that people will read it and reflect on where they came from, and perhaps what did their family go through that they’re seeing other people in the world go through, and maybe build some empathy and compassion.”
Rachael Cerrotti will read 7 p.m. Tuesday in a virtual event hosted by Brookline Booksmith.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.