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The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million Hardcover – September 19, 2006
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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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Daniel Mendelsohn grew up surrounded by older relatives who survived the Holocaust either because they got out of Europe in time or by luck or divine intervention they survived the Nazi’s. Daniel knew this. He knew about the events of World War II. What he did not know if why elderly relatives would begin to cry when they saw him and mention he looked like a person Daniel did not know. Shmiel Jäger was Daniel’s great uncle. Shmiel, his wife, and four daughters did not survive the Holocaust. When they died, how they died and why they died were not know. The only know was “they were killed by the Nazis.”
The Lost is the story of Daniel learning of his lost family and as adult his quest to find them. They were not “killed by the Nazis” of meticulous records. They were not all killed at the same time or the same place. In his quest to find their fates, Daniel and his family learned an incredible amount. They learned about Ukrainians who turned in neighbors. They learned about Poles who hid Jews. They learned about the non-Jews who lost their lives trying to save lives. They learned about the unending cruelty that accompanied the last moments of so many people. The hardback edition contains photographs from the author’s family. There is a certain level of heartbreak, which thank whatever Gods you believe in we do not experience often, on seeing two smiling teen girls and knowing their death will come before they experience love, marriage, and motherhood.
When I read the book, it was powerful. I expected the audiobook to be the same. It was not. Bronson Pinchot’s narration is masterful and devastating. Pinchot is fantastic at the accents. Whether it is Daniel’s mother’s New York accent or his grandfather’s Yiddish, they are clear and believable. The voices, whether male or female, old or young, are very well done. He creates Daniel’s voice but he also creates so much more. He infuses every word with emotion. But there is a power within Pinchot’s narration that the listener must be prepared for. I was driving and thankfully could pull over for a moment. When Pinchot describes what they believe happened to his one relative, a teenage girl, who was rounded up by the Ukrainians at the direction of the Nazi authorities, held with a thousand other people, naked, without food or water or access to facilities, made to watch their rabbi have his eyes cut out and a cross carved on his chest, then taken to the forest where group by group they walked onto a plank over a pit, to be shot and if God was merciful, they died immediately; if not they lay wounded under covered by other bodies and eventually earth. That was difficult to read. Pinchot’s narration contains so much rage, sadness, and horror that it is devastating to hear. Bronson Pinchot should have the 2016 Audie just for that passage alone. If you have to chose between reading The Lost or listening to Pinchot’s narration, take the narration. The power of his performance will stay with you