History and Memoir

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A Distant Heartbeat: A War, a Disappearance, and a Family’s Secrets

Eunice Lipton

On May 20, 1938, a young man from the Bronx informs his parents that he is leaving for the Catskills to begin his new job as a waiter. Instead, he sails for Europe to join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, the opening round in the fight against Hitler and Mussolini. The man, Dave Lipton—the author’s uncle—sends letter after letter home detailing his hopes and begging for forgiveness. He never receives a reply.

Decades later, Eunice Lipton stumbles upon clues for this silence, uncovering details of Dave’s exhilarating political life in New York, his shuttered romantic life, and his deep friendship with another volunteer. A Distant Heartbeat tells a tale of passion and heroism, centered on a fierce competition between brothers, a packet of missing letters, and the unforeseen results of family betrayal.


Eunice Lipton is the author of Alias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model and Her Own Desire and, more recently, French Seduction: An American’s Encounter with France, Her Father, and the Holocaust. She lives in New York and Paris.


“An art historian’s account of the research she undertook to understand the life of a mysterious uncle. . . . Well-researched and . . . stirring.”


Kirkus Reviews

“A precise, elegiac journey through history, family tensions, and human drama.”


Shelf Awareness

“A true pleasure.”


Jewish Currents

“Anyone interested in the barbed landscape of families and the awkward, painful, jerry-rigged nature of family relationships will find A Distant Heartbeat a rich and weighty book. There are mysteries here, and a deep, dark betrayal. But A Distant Heartbeat is less about surprises than about unwieldy sorrows and joys at the heart of what we call family life.”



“The very best stories are human ones, told with a compelling candor, offering insight into the human condition, and revealing what it truly means to live a life during 'interesting times.’ Such is the case with A Distant Heartbeat: A War, a Disappearance, and a Family’s Secrets.”


Midwest Book Review

5.5 x 8 in. 176 pages 13 halftones