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

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn
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's review
Dec 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: you-need-to-buy-this-book, dysfunctional-families-are-us
Read in December, 2009

I wasn't looking for a book about the Holocaust, that most loaded word of words, especially here in Manhattan, where Jewish culture and arts surround and engage you like in no other place in America. But I was intrigued by the premise, the search for "six of six million"--Mendelsohn's great-uncle and his four daughters--who were "killed by the Nazis," according to family legend.

I usually have a hard time with most non-fiction books, my attention drifting after a few chapters, because they typically lack a personal narrative, something identifiably small-scale and human on which to focus as I wade through a complex study of, say, religion or letter-writing or French cooking. I get lost.

What makes Mendelsohn's book so successful, then, is that he makes sure to get your attention (by boiling down this hugely horrific tragedy to an intimate search for his family members) and keeps it, by blending in a comparative study of the Torah and how the first few chapters (or readings) link back to and inform our understanding of the Divine, morality, human behavior and the basic concepts of good and evil.

It's a lot of information, between his global (yes, global) search for stories of his great-uncle's family--starting with when and how they died, and moving to how they lived) and his glossing of the Torah, but in the end, Mendelsohn's circular storytelling strategy, in which many stories are folded in and repeated, creates a rich and memorable uber-story, about where we come from and how we live. I highly, highly recommend it.
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