A SEARCH FOR SIX OF SIX MILLION
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, WINNER
NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD, WINNER
SALON BOOK AWARD, WINNER
PRIX MÉDICIS (France), WINNER
PREMIO WIZO-ADEI (Italy), WINNER
LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE, FINALIST
DUFF COOPER PRIZE (U.K.), FINALIST
BARNES & NOBLE “DISCOVER” PRIZE, 2ND PLACE
NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
AMAZON BEST HISTORY BOOK OF 2006
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER (FRANCE, ITALY, ISRAEL, NORWAY)
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
PRAISE and REVIEWS
Hugely ambitious yet intensely engaging in its humility. [Mendelsohn] attempts to rescue from oblivion a single family’s fate. And in his quest for the details that endow them with life, he draws us more deeply into the experience of the larger catastrophe than we might have thought possible…The result is a new way of telling a story we thought we knew…
The Lost is the most gripping, the most amazing true story I have read in years…enthralling…immensely moving and beautifully written…The Lost is a terrifying reminder of the struggle that keeps being waged by people throughout history to safeguard from extinction the memories of some life and some great injustice before they are plunged into darkness. Like some mythical hero who pays a visit to that realm of shadows the Greeks called the underworld, Mendelsohn has brought back stories of the dead that we are not likely to forget long after we close his book.
Here, above all, is an unrelenting quest into the life and death of others…It’s a vast, highly colored tapestry. Indeed, with passion and no little grit, he weaves in snippets of language, fragments of incident, fleeting names — and succeeds in assembling an immensely human tableau in which each witness has a face and each face a story and destiny…a remarkable personal narrative — rigorous in its search for truth, at once tender and exacting.
Mr. Mendelsohn succeeds in carving out the shape of individuals from the block of marmoreal martyrdom we call the Holocaust. He traveled the world, interviewing very old people and—through the combination of the research skills of a classicist and the sheer luck that often dictated who among the hunted succeeded in eluding the hunters—recovers the members of his family from that jumble of indistinguishable corpses.
Beautiful and powerfully moving…As suspenseful as a detective thriller and as difficult to put down…But The Lost is more than an amazing story, more than an account of a quest, more than a family memoir…Eventually, the book itself comes to seem like a sustained meditation on time, memory, and history, on the distance and imminence of the past. Finally, what makes The Lost so extraordinary is how loving it is. The book is suffused with affection and respect for Mendelsohn’s family and friends, for the…living and the dead—the living who sustain us, the dead we cared deeply about, and the lost ones who changed us forever without our ever having met them.”
In its own vast circling loops, The Lost mediates between history and the present, the living and the dead, between the story being told and the emotional life of the storyteller. “One by one, the Chinese boxes opened,’ Mendelsohn writes of listening to his grandfather, “and I would sit and gaze into each one, hypnotized.” He could be describing his mesmerizing hold on the reader through some 500 pages…Telling the story of those who didn’t survive, who had no story, is a difficult, even improbable, undertaking. In this magnificent and deeply wise book, Mendelsohn succeeds in doing just that. His accomplishment is enormous.
Remarkable…Enough cannot be said about The Lost. It is among the best of books about the Holocaust, and its special virtue is that Mendelsohn is successful in rescuing his lost family from the anonymity of the mass graves and crematoria.
Complexity is not the problem but the solution, a mentor once counseled Mendelsohn. He has learned the lesson well. Thus, the book’s labyrinthine course, as he travels to Europe, Israel and Australia to interview Bolechow survivors, as his narrative slides backward and forward in time, as he spins one Scheherazade-like tale out of another, as he pauses for engaging and poignant asides…Harrowing, absorbing and supremely intelligent, the book amounts to an eloquent Kaddish, a prayer for the dead of Bolechow. By honoring these six relatives, Mendelsohn has paid homage to all of those who perished in Hitler’s Final Solution.
[Mendelsohn] is a brilliant storyteller, influenced by the Greek masters he so admires, eschewing the chronological, looping forward and back, teasing the reader with hints of what the gods may have in store.
Rich with storytelling, questioning, deep emotion, silence and the unspoken, the dead and the living. Mendelsohn has written a work of art in his telling of the search for the lives and deaths of his great-uncle Shmiel Jager, great-aunt Ester, and their daughters Lorka, Frydka, Ruchele and Bronia, all of whom were killed by the Nazis…Many stories of the Holocaust are intensely moving; that is not surprising, and rather expected. But Mendelsohn has tried to do other things here as well, such as show how memory and truth can converge and diverge at the flick of an eyelid, and that, despite what seems to be long runs of coincidences in his journeying towards finding the story…This is a great achievement, and an intensely moving one.