2007: 59. The Lost

“Some time ago, when I was six or seven or eight years old, it would occasionally happen that I’d walk into a room and certain people would begin to cry.”

The Lost: a search for six of the six million  - Daniel Mendelsohn

Put quite simply, this is the best book I have read this year.  Daniel Mendelsohn is a Jewish American classical scholar, a professor and frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books.  His maternal grandfather immigrated to the United States from Poland with most of his family.  His great-uncle came to the United States, but decided that he would be happier back in Poland, and returned, married and had four daughters.  All six of them, along with (almost) every other Jew in the town (all but 48) were murdered in the Holocaust.  Mendelsohn, who has been obsessed with his family’s history his entire life (brought on by his love of his grandfather’s stories), decided to try to find out all he could about the deaths, and ultimately the lives of these six people.  It is a remarkable story - how much he will never know, but how much he actually finds, and a journey that will take him around the world, from the Ukraine (the village is no longer Polish), to Australia, to Sweden, to Israel.  He meets people who have survived extraordinary things, and hears stories of unimaginable suffering.  That alone would make this book unforgettable.

Even more spectacular, though, is the way Mendelsohn tells his story.  He thinks not only about what happened, but about how we can never know what happened - never know what it was like, how unimaginable this is, how fleeting history.  At the same time, reading his book made me really think about what actually did happen - not a vague sadness about Europe’s Jews, but how actual individuals were killed - how terrible and yet banal it was.  This is a heartbreaking book, and I was in tears when I read it, and a thought provoking book, and a horrible book, and a beautiful one.  It is a stunning piece of writing, and I think everyone should read it, and consider how close we all are, always, from unspeakable acts, and also, how close we are from unbelievable grace.  And how fleeting any life is, and how we can never really know what happened.

Recommend for: Everyone.  Read this book.

Date/Place Completed: 5/5/07; D.C. 

Categories: Non-Fiction; Library Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017