In September 1970, when she was 12, Martha Hodes and her sister were flying home alone to New York from Israel when their plane was hijacked by armed members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
It was redirected to an airstrip in the Jordanian desert, and joined by two others. Passengers were held hostage for six days before the hijackers released them unharmed, and blew up the planes.
It was a shocking event that drew headlines around the world. But Hodes and her family barely talked about it afterward. “I love school!” she wrote in her diary the first week back. “Everything’s great!”
Even decades later, Hodes, now a historian at New York University, brought it up only with close friends, and then only offhandedly.
“They all said something similar — that I spoke about it in a way that was very dismissive,” she recalled.
Historians are in the business of digging stories out of the archives. But in “My Hijacking,” published June 6 by Harper, Hodes also goes digging through her own recollections. The book is the story of a dramatic and politically charged event, but also an exploration of trauma and memory, the relationship between our older and younger selves and the connection between personal experience and capital-H history.
That last one is a live question in the historical profession, where a growing number of scholars have written books that marry personal and family history with archival scholarship — sometimes upending both treasured family stories and traditional scholarly notions of truth and objectivity alike.
Not that Hodes, a scholar of 19th-century America, was an eager memoirist. After reading her first draft, her husband asked what she wanted readers to learn about her. She answered, only half-jokingly, “Nothing.”
The book has won largely admiring advance reviews (Publishers Weekly called it “poignant and perceptive”), and been excerpted in The New Yorker. But Hodes still expresses a bit of cool, self-appraising distance.
“Part of me wants to say, ‘I’m happy with my book! I love my book!,’” she said. But the word she uses is “satisfied.”
“Writing about my own life, exposing my feelings and myself to readers, was difficult,” she said. “I’m still thinking about why I did that.”