Ignatieff's roots, immigrant and otherwise

The Conservative response to a recent Liberal video, in which Michael Ignatieff talks about his Russian father coming to Canada, has been posted on here and here. Obviously, the Tory line that Ignatieff’s immigrant roots count for less because he descends from Russian aristocracy is an example of the crudest partisan spin.

Still, it’s true that the Liberal leader’s family background is far from typical. And it’s also the case that we’re lucky enough to know a great deal about Ignatieff’s fascinating lineage, thanks to two of his books—1987’s The Russian Album, in which he meditates on his father’s side, and 2009’s True Patriot Love, in which he explores three generations of the famous Canadian Grants, his mother’s clan.

If you’re interested, The Russian Album is a great read and True Patriot Love is, well, a fast one with some good parts. If you’re not inclined to pick them up, I reviewed True Patriot Love at some length here, and used that as a welcome excuse to reconsider The Russian Album.

On what Ignatieff had to say about his father, the revered diplomat George Ignatieff (who was alive when The Russian Album was published but has since died), I pulled what I think is a telling quote: “He presented himself to the world throughout my childhood as the model of an assimilated Canadian professional… And to this day he is a much more patriotic and sentimental Canadian than I am.”

In this, at least, it seems a fairly classic immigrant story: that of the generation who found a home here trying, against the odds, to instill in their kids that newcomer’s sense of gratitude.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.