Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn

I just finished reading The Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million, by Daniel Mendelsohn. This book documents his search for information about his grandfather's older brother Shmiel, and his family, who perished in the Holocaust. It was very interesting reading how his quest evolved from only searching for information about how they died to also wanting to learn as much as possible about how they lived and who they were. The author was lucky to be able to speak face-to-face with people who knew Shmiel, his wife Ester, and their 4 daughters. His journey took him around the world to Australia, Stockholm, and Israel, as well as more than one trip back to the shtetl of Belochow. The only thing I didn't like were the bible analyses. I just skimmed over these sections. It's just not something that interests me.

One thing that amazed me as he described his meetings with the Belochow survivors around the world is a common trait among them that I, being Jewish, see as common among Jews...they want to feed you when you visit. Not just a little snack but trays of pastries and huge meals. I've never been to Israel but I can picture an entire country of people who, when you visit, say, "Come in, you look hungry, I'll fix you a plate." Hopefully I will get to test my theory next year.

The author also pointed out, when talking about his grandfather's storytelling style, that there was never a direct line from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. All of these little detours had to be taken to make sure the person listening to the story had all of the facts, ALL of the facts. My dad visited me for Thanksgiving and, listening to him, I heard the same style in his conversation.

The only time the story let me down, by no fault of the author, was near the end when he was finally able to get details about the Polish teachers who hid Shmiel and his daughter Frydka. When he found out that one of the teachers had an illegitimate child, I gasped "oh my god" and immediately thought that this was Frydka's baby and the teacher was pretending it was her child to save it. I let my imagination get the better of me and was disappointed when the story didn't go in that direction. That would have been something though.

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