Monday, August 27, 2007

The Lost: a search for six of six million

In the second chapter of The Lost Daniel Mendelson describes how his Grandfather tells a story:

he wouldn't do anything so obvious as to start at the beginning and end at the end; instead, he told it in vast circling loops, so that each incident, each character he mentioned as he sat there....had its own mini-history, a story within a story, a narrative inside a narrative, so that the story he told was dominoes, one thing happening just after the other, but instead like a set of Chinese boxes or Russian dolls, so that each event turned out to contain another, which contained another, and so forth.

It is in this way that Mendelsohn tells this story, the story of his Grandfather's brother, his wife, and his four daughters that were lost in the Holocaust. Mendelsohn grew up hearing bits about his Great Uncle Shmiel and as an adult decided to find out what had happened to them. This journey took him to Ukraine, Australia, Israel, Poland, the list goes on. Mendelsohn set out to find out what happened, how these relatives died and came to the realization that what he was finding, what was perhaps more important, was how they lived. What sort of people they were, what they looked like, who their friends and boyfriends were. And what of all the other 6 million, what about their stories of how they lived - would they ever be told?

In one passage, Mendelsohn writes about an elderly gentleman, who has written to the German government asking them to put up a memorial in a forest on the site of the murder of 1000 Jews. The German government has responded, that if the Jewish community of the town could raise a certain amount of money, they would match it. His response? Dear Sir, All the other members of the Styjer Jewish community are in the Holobutow forest.

I do not have the words to describe how stunning, how powerful, how beautifully written this book is. It certainly reminded me of all the information I had accessible to me, that has now been lost. Mendelsohn says it best:

you decide, suddenly, that it's important to let your children know where they came from - you need the information that people you once knew always had to give you, if only you'd asked. But by the time you think to ask, it's too late.

I think about those family gathering that he describes, the ones with somewhat frightening elderly people that seem not to like children and wonder, what could I have known?

Mendelsohn's journey seems epic, and there are often setbacks. Despite this, the book comes to a shocking and satisfying conclusion. This is one of the best books I've read this year, truly, in the past few years. Highly recommended.

I've also finished another book, The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark. This was fine - unfortunately for it, I was reading The Lost at the same time, and it paled in comparison.

I think posting in the next 2 weeks is going to be light, possibly nonexistent. Our schedules are full; we are trying to enjoy this last bit of summer, having a holiday weekend which I will be working all of, organizing the Fall extracurricular schedule, and having our first experience with public school involving many hours to be spent at 'orientation'. I will still be visiting all of you though, to relax and be inspired.


Cath said...

The Lost sounds like something I'd be interested in so I'll keep an eye out for that.

I have the same scheduling problems over the next week or two. Very heavy. In fact I have managed to finish a wonderful book but not had a moment to write a proper review. I also started Made in Heaven by Adele Geras. Went to the library site to renew it last night, only to discover someone else has reserved it and I have to take it back! Never mind, I can get it again in a while. Annoying though.

nutmeg said...

I LOVED The Lost too - but I think you know that already! Great review; very thoughtful.

I have picked up the next Clare Clark book a number of times but I think I will wait until it goes to the small forat paperback - but I still want to read it!

Cornflower said...

The Lost sounds terrible and wonderful. How often do we wish we could still ask those who've gone? Thankyou for that most interesting review, Tara.

Danielle said...

I had not heard of The Lost. I will have to get that one. Even though much of it is very sad, I like to read Holocaust literature (however weird that sounds). I think it is important that people do read it! I liked The Nature of Monsters, too, but it's hard to read a good book next to a really great book as the good one is going to suffer a bit! Enjoy your last week of summer. I think we are going to finally have some nice days here--I turned off my air conditioning today and opened windows for the first time in months!! Maybe I can actually enjoy the weekend!

matt mendelsohn said...


I am NOT a spokesman for my brother or the Mendelsohn family, but I wanted to let you know that I appreciated greatly your kind words about Daniel's book. It's always nice to read nice things about one's sibling.

If you're interested, you can view lots of pictures from The Lost at my website, They're bigger than they are in the book!

Best regards,

Matt Mendelsohn

Carrie K said...

Enjoy your summer while it lasts! Blogging will be there later.

The Lost sounded fascinating. I'd forgotten about it. Thanks for the review & the reminder!

Lotus Reads said...

What a wonderful review, Tara, of what seems to be an essential read. This will definitely go on my wish list. Thanks again! Enjoy the last few days of summer ( I feel sad just typing those words!) Some of the trees in our forests are already changing color. We've had a very dry summer this year and people say it's going to affect the Fall colors tremendously. Sad.