JimS's Reviews > The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn
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M_50x66
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Dec 24, 11

Read in December, 2011

This is one of the most excruciatingly haunting books I've ever read. It is marvelously told, the story of Daniel Mendelsohn searching for details -- specifics! -- on how six members of his family were "killed by the Nazis" during the Holocaust -- "killed by the Nazis" being about the only information he started with. This is so much more than a detective story. It's an Odyssey. Mendelsohn is a classicist by profession, and his storytelling is a loving adaption (adoption?) of Homer. But it's also more than that. There are stories within stories within stories, twists and turns, seemingly endless tales and endless sentences, and toward the end, a page turner that delivers a final knockout punch. One of those stories is the one about the grandfather he loves, whose story telling style Mendelsohn replicates in the structure of the book. It took me a long time to click into the story because the first part winds and winds and doesn't seem to make much progress. But somewhere in the second half, things pick up, and it becomes clear why the set-up was as long-winded as it was. Did I say there is a parallel, Biblical story line embedded within the detective Odyssey? Without giving too much away, the moral questions in the Biblical sections dovetail with the moral questions that come up -- some of which are too unbearable even to mention so Mendelsohn doesn't, but they are there nonetheless -- in thinking about who did what to whom and why during the Holocaust. A very large theme is what family members do to one another, and considering that some of it is every bit terrible on a small scale as genocide is on a large scale, what is the meaning of family anyway? There also is a subtext about Mendelsohn himself and a long suppressed childhood event that seems to have launched him on his quest to always look back.

I had this book on my shelf also for family reasons. My maternal grandmother was from the same part of the world -- Gallicia -- that the people Mendelsohn was searching lived and died. This is most likely the reason my aunt picked up this book and recommended it to me. So this tale is close to home in a distant kind of way. In any event, this is well worth the time and perseverance it may take to wind through the briars to get to the promised land.
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