The plot of Money Must Stay in the Family, unfolds around the family matriarch's last will and traces the story of an upper class Jewish family from Turin, the fictional Ottolenghis. The multigenerational saga begins wit the flight from Mussolini's Racial Laws of 1938 and continues with the arrival in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the dispersion from New York to Rome, Paris, Tuscany, South America, and Jerusalem. The gravitational center of the story is New York: the place of safety, new beginnings, mixing, and eventual return. The city becomes a place where people who left behind everything that had been familiar for generations re-invent themselves, or at least attempt to.
This is not a story of assimilation into American society, but rather an insightful look into how the century-old attachment to their Jewish-Piedmontese identity and origin continues to operate within them, as their daily lives occur in a new environment. One of Elkann's narrative techniques is that of comparing and contrasting. The Ottolenghis are measured against the Weils, a French Jewish family, who has settled across Central Park in the more affluent Upper East Side. Where the Italian family is anchored in history and tradition, the French family is preoccupied with waiting for the war to end and returning to their business and status. Their interaction as the two families intermarry becomes a way to face and come to terms with America.Unlike the numerous studies of German and Austrian Jews who came to the US fleeing Nazism in the late 1930's, until recently relatively little has been written on the much smaller groups of Jews arriving from Italy and France.
Centro Primo Levi's publishing and research project Americordo, of which this book is part, has began to offer sources to reconstruct this story.Alain Elkann has found the perfect pitch to describe from the inside this small minority of Italian and French Jewish émigrés to America: wealthy and for the most part oblivious to politics, they escaped the brunt of the persecution and loss, and have thus far remained largely unexamined.Avoiding stereotyping and sociological categories, in a delicate balance between fiction and memoir, Elkann focuses on individual destinies and quests. Through a multitude of characters from two interconnected families, he presents forms of attachment, estrangement, belonging, rejecting, escaping and returning to Judaism, in a post-Shoah world. [Publisher's text]