The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn, is an excellent book, and compelling family chronicle that takes us on a journey throughout the world. It is part tour-de-farce and at times comical, yet the undertones are serious, strong and insightful. It is searing, tearing, and our hearts are in our throats, flying along with him in a frenzy through so many countries, He didn’t have time for jet lag, he only had time for truth and knowledge.
Mendelsohn’s childhood was somewhat bizarre. His grandparents and other extended family members would cry whenever he walked into a room. To them he was the spitting image of an uncle he never knew, his uncle Schmiel, who died during World War II. He became curious, wondering what was it about that uncle that made his relatives cry. What are the stories behind the man, the mysteries of his life, and the lives of his other long-lost relatives? What evoked such tears in his aunts and uncles? It was a given, it never failed to happen. This was the spark that caught the flames of his curiosity.
Mendelsohn was fascinated with genealogy as a youth, and considered himself to be the family historian. Little did he know, then, that the history he would be researching, documenting and accounting, would take him on a journeys and escapades to Israel, Australia, the Ukraine, Scandinavia and other countries in order to interview witnesses who knew his family members. He would become passionate, obsessed, untiring in his quest for the truth.
Mendolsohn was like a man possessed, and he couldn’t stop to even breathe until he put his family members to rest, in his search for identity, and truth. We feel his urgency, his unrelenting need to know, and feel anxious, ourselves.
Reading Mendelshon’s The Lost is involving, a commitment to learning about history, a page turner, like an intriguing mystery or spy novel. The historical content is extremely well-researched and amazing. The documentation of Mendelsohn’s travels and some of his family members’ travels in order to to find out what happened to six relatives during the time of the Holocaust is a descriptive blend that fills our senses and tears at our emotions. It is heart-wrenching, yet Mendelsohn does bring us a bit of comic relief here and there, between the pages. He also writes with intensity about ancestors and the past, and how families hand down tales and stories (often shielding their own pain or shame), from one generation to the next until the distorted truth is even believed by the original story teller.
Mendelsohn refers to The Bible, alluding to The Book of Genesis and Cain and Abel, in order to demonstrate brothers, betrayal, loss, familial ties, love, destruction, war. He ties the Biblical references together with the history of the Holocaust, contrasting and comparing events of The Bible to his own family’s background…they were from a small Shtetl, Bolochow, in the Ukraine. He scrutinizes each word verbalized, each word in each document in order to find the truth of the fate of the missing family members. The Lost is a book about the choices we make, and the consequences of those choices, whether positive or negative. It is also a story about origins/beginnings, and a story about travels towards truth, answers and endings, written in almost mystical fashion.
The historical Holocaust accountings in this book are amazing…so many witnesses…so little time regarding the stories needing documentation, and needing telling, but most of all, stories needing remembering. There were so many witnesses needing to speak (lest we forget). And, Mendelsohn, himself, along with other family members…I can’t even begin to describe my thoughts and feelings, while reading their reactions to what they see and discover in Bolochow (there’s a lump in my throat writing this). I read this book a while ago, and it has continued to stay with me, and recently read it once again, sparked by my own genealogical pursuits. I empathized and related to Daniel Mendelsohn’s trek, his journey through his ancestral past. That is the power of Mendelsohn as an author, that is the power of the book.
Mendelsohn is brilliant, and a masterful story teller and writer. His almost mystical manner of writing is not only articulate, but beautiful. Word images prevail on every page, and in almost every line, with drama and flair. His book is a tribute to those “Six of Six Million“, and a tribute to his own perseverance and endurance to set the story straight, to write it correctly, unedited and uncolored in time’s continuum. Daniel Mendelsohn’s journey was a personal one and a commitment to himself, and a sojourn and commitment to family, to those who perished and who were lost, to those living, to future generations. But, most of all, it is an extremely compelling and poignant read, and it is an incredible tribute to life…life in every realm.
I personally own and have read this book.
May 21, 2012 – 29 Iyyar, 5772
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