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The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million Hardcover – September 19, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 197 customer reviews

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Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost is the deeply personal account of a search for one family among his larger family, the one barely spoken of, only to say they were "killed by the Nazis." Mendelsohn, even as a boy, was always the one interested in his family's history, but when he came upon a set of letters from his great uncle Schmiel, pleading for help from his American relatives as the Nazi grip on the lives of Jews in their Polish town became tighter and tighter, he set out to find what had happened to that lost family. The result is both memoir and history, an ambitious and gorgeously meditative detective story that takes him across the globe in search of the lost threads of these few almost forgotten lives.

A whole culture lies behind the story Mendelsohn tells, and a lifetime of reading as well. For our Grownup School feature, he has given us a tour of some of the books behind his own, in a list he calls 10 Great Novels of Family History, the Holocaust, New York Jewish Life (And Other Things That Helped Me Write My Book). And you can watch his own moving introduction to the book in this short video:

Watch Daniel Mendelsohn introduce The Lost: high bandwidth or low bandwidth

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. As a boy in the 1960s, Mendelsohn could make elderly relatives cry just by entering the room, so much did he resemble his great-uncle Shmiel Jäger, who had been "killed by the Nazis." This short phrase was all Mendelsohn knew of his maternal grandfather Abraham's brother, who had remained with his wife and four daughters in the Ukrainian shtetl of Bolechow after Abraham left for America. Long obsessed with family history, Mendelsohn (The Elusive Embrace) embarked in 2001 on a series of journeys to learn exactly what had happened to Shmiel and his family. The result is a rich, ruminative "mythic narrative... about closeness and distance, intimacy and violence, love and death." Mendelsohn uses these words to describe the biblical story of Cain and Abel, for one of the book's most striking elements is the author's recounting of the book of Genesis in parallel with his own story, highlighting eternal themes of origins and family, temptation and exile, brotherly betrayal, creation and annihilation. In Ukraine, Australia, Israel and Scandinavia, Mendelsohn locates a handful of extraordinary, aged Bolechow survivors. Especially poignant is his relationship with novelist Louis Begley's 90-year-old mother, from a town near the shtetl, an irascible, scene-stealing woman who eagerly follows Mendelsohn's remarkable effort to retrieve her lost world. B&w photos, maps. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (September 19, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060542977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060542979
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the saddest, most heartrending books I have read in years. I could not bear to stop reading, even when I was revolted by the descriptions of torture and death that were visited upon innocents. There can never be too many books about the Holocaust, particularly in these days when some deny that it even took place. This one is especially important since it contains so many eye witness accounts from aged people whose voices must soon be quiet forever.

As a young boy growing up among his extended Jewish family Daniel Mendelsohn was mystified by the tears that broke out whenever he entered a room occupied by his grandparents and great-aunts and uncles. He looked so much like Schmiel, a man he only vaguely knew to be an uncle who had died in Eastern Europe during World War II. Fortunately, Daniel became interested in family history at an early age and began to ask questions and keep records. Eventually, as an adult, he and his siblings undertook to discover what had actually happened to Uncle Schmiel and his family.

The resulting journeys took Daniel to Ukraine, Israel, Poland, Sweden, and Australia among other places and allowed him to meet many former residents of Bolochow, the shtetl in which Daniel's family, including Schmiel, had lived. He interviewed witnesses to the deaths of Schmiel and his wife and daughters and recorded sometimes conflicting accounts of their deaths and those of thousands of others. At times the stories are repetitive, but they are no less compelling to read.

I liked this book on a number of levels. First, as I said above, its another essential Holocaust record and must be one of the last to record so many first hand accounts of what happened during the Final Solution. Second, the many characters are very appealing.
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Format: Hardcover
I could not put this book down for three days. Literally. I got food on it and bathwater and fell asleep reading with my head on the table at 3 am. I woke the next morning groping for it. It is moving and powerful and beautifully written. I cannot recommend it more highly and have already purchased copies for my friends and family.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Mendelsohn has lost 6 family members in the Holocaust and has reclaimed their lives in "The Lost." This is not a dry, academic tome with statistics and analysis of the death camps. The author is a participant within the book as he successfully plays detective to uncover the fate of his relatives. The writing is nothing less than brilliant and never boring. He uncovers betrayals, sacrifices and heroics within the small town of Bolechow, Poland. Mr. Mendelsohn seems to have found every aged survivor from Bolechow -- this book is their witness to the Holocaust.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am about to be 60 and am reading a book that fills me with regret, THE LOST, by Daniel Mendelsohn, the story of how he tracked down the final days of his grandfather's brother and that man's four beautiful daughters. I have finished the first fifth of the book and am convinced that it is the greatest literary work that I have read since my youthful exposure to Proust and the early novels of Saul Bellow. Mendelsohn combines a personal memoir of growing up in a "modern" Jewish family in America with historical detective work based on old photographs, recovered letters, interviews, trips, internet sites devoted to the little towns of Eastern Europe and Jewish genealogy, and couches it in the most beautiful and evocative and thoughtful sentences, often based on the style of Proust (to whom he has given the opening epigraph of the book), organizing his discussion around an analysis of the first book of the Torah (even mentioning my Haftorah passage, Lech lecha) and Homer's Iliad. He brings to life long lost people, places, philosophical issues, with drama and mystery. He has assembled a complete genealogy of his family and has testified to the power of memory, language (Yiddish, Hebrew, German), family love, pride and humor. He is unfailingly generous in his descriptions and conclusions. The book is illustrated with photographs taken by his younger brother. The parallels with our own family history, our life in New York and in Florida, the impact of parents on the intellectual growth of their children, the impact of religious stories and scholarship, the diaspora to America and Israel, are incredibly resonant and moving, and all this in the first 70 pages.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Once in a while a book comes along that has the power to involve me emotionally. "The Lost" is one of those books, a complex, multilayered modern odyssey. Subtitled "A Search for Six of the Six Million, this 2006 non-fiction tome is the personal story of the author's recent quest to discover exactly what happened to six members of his family who perished during the Holocaust. Like myself, Daniel Mendelson is an American Jew. He's a generation younger than me, but, unlike myself, some of his family members lived in Eastern Europe in the 1940s, and his beloved grandfather's brother, sister-in-law and four teenage daughters were "lost" during that awful time.

The author's journey led him to the Ukraine, Israel, Australia and Scandinavia. He spoke with elderly survivors who had some memory of his family or the way they lived. What he learned was shocking, chilling and yet somehow inspiring. The people he spoke to were old, their memories were fading, and some of the stories they told were merely rumors. Often, some of the stories contradicted each other. Questions were raised. Did one of the daughters have a romantic relationship with a young Polish man who tried to save her? What was the real reason that one of the brothers emigrated to Israel in the 1930s? What was it like for the people who had all their possessions and dignity stripped from them? How did each one of these six people die? And, ever more importantly, how did they live?

As the author is a professor of classics, mixed in with the basic story are very interesting discourses on complex interpretations of the Old Testament. There are many interpretations of the way the ancient words were used and discussions about their true meaning.
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