Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Lost

I highly recommend Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. My hardcover copy of this nonfiction work is 513 pages long and was originally published in September 2006. The Lost follows Mendelsohn's search for information on six family members who perished in the Holocaust. This is the story not only of these family members, but of Mendelsohn's search, his journey, trying to uncover any information he could about them. When I first heard Mendelsohn talking about his book on Book TV early in 2007, I immediately put The Lost on my wish list. It is to my detriment that I didn't get my hands on a copy and read it immediately.

This is not a book that simply enumerates the many atrocities of the Holocaust. I noticed (at Amazon) several short sighted reviewers who couldn't get through the book or didn't appreciate how Mendelsohn presented his search, his family's story. So, if you want to read a simple linear account in 100 pages or less of who was missing and what the information he finally uncovered shows him probably happened, then don't read The Lost. If you can appreciate the search for answers, the journey, the years spent in trying to piece together differing accounts from the fragile memories of aging survivors, then you will appreciate The Lost. This is a personal account of one man, in one family, and his search for the truth of what happened to their relatives. Mendelsohn doesn't simply tell the reader what the final answers to his many questions appear to be, but rather he recounts his search for these answers, for the truth or what may be the truth.
Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from The Lost:
"In this rich and riveting narrative, a writer's search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II becomes a remarkably original epic - part memoir, part reportage, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work - that brilliantly explores the nature of time and memory, family and history.

The Lost begins as the story of a boy who grew up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust - an unmentionable subject that gripped his imagination from earliest childhood. Decades later, spurred by the discovery of a cache of desperate letters written to his grandfather in 1939 and tantalized by fragmentary tales of a terrible betrayal, Daniel Mendelsohn sets out to find the remaining eyewitnesses to his relatives' fates. That quest eventually takes him to a dozen countries on four continents, and forces him to confront the wrenching discrepancies between the histories we live and the stories we tell. And it leads him,
finally, back to the small Ukrainian town where his family's story began, and where the solution to a decades-old mystery awaits him.

Deftly moving between past and present, interweaving a world-wandering odyssey with childhood memories of a now-lost generation of immigrant Jews and provocative ruminations on biblical texts and Jewish history, The Lost transforms the story of one family into a profound, morally searching meditation on our fragile hold on the past. Deeply personal, grippingly suspenseful, and beautifully written, this literary tour de force illuminates all that is lost, and found, in the passage of time."


first sentence
"Some time ago, when I was six or seven or eight years old, it would occasionally happen that I'd walk into a room and certain people would begin to cry."

"My grandfather was famous (in the way that certain kinds of Jewish immigrants and their families will talk about someone being 'famous' for something, which generally means that about twenty-six people know about it)..."

"Like every other Jewish child I knew, I had some religious training. This was mostly to appease my grandfather, although, since the Reform Jewish education I was getting was so watered down, so denatured in comparison to the rigorously Orthodox heder learning he had required in Bolechow a lifetime ago, I and my three brothers may well have been educated by Catholic priests, as far as he was concerned."

"But I also know... that being so intimate, having too much access to what goes on inside those closest to you by blood... will sometimes have the opposite reaction, causing family members too flee one another, to seek more... 'space.' "

"As often happens in large families, we children early on adopted, or were given, what I thought of for a long time as 'labels.' "

"I had missed so much, when those elderly Jews who had surrounded me when I was a boy, and who had, it turned out, known so much that I now needed to know, were alive."

"The world is so much bigger than you can possibly imagine, if you grow up in a provincial place: a New York suburb, a Galician shtetl, it doesn't really matter. Then you start to travel."

"In my mind, that Latin half-line became a kind of caption for the poignantly unabridgeable distances created by time.. There are tears in things; but we all cry for different reasons."

"For anyone who's traveled extensively knows that, although you may think you know what you're looking for and where you're going when you first set out, what you learn along the way is often quite surprising."

"Sometimes the stories we tell are narratives of what happened; sometimes they are the images of what we wish had happened, the unconscious justifications of the lives we've ended up living."

"...I did and do believe, after all that I've seen and done, that if you search, you will, by the very act of searching, make something happen that would not otherwise have happened, you will find something, even something small, something that will certainly be more than if you hadn't gone looking in the first place, if you hadn't asked your grandfather anything at all."

1 comment:

Juliette said...

This sounds an excellent book and I really enjoyed your thoughts. Thank you.