The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million

by Daniel Mendelsohn

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A New York Times Notable Book • Winner of the National Jewish Book Award • Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award • A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

“A gripping detective story, a stirring epic, a tale of ghosts and dark marvels, a thrilling display of scholarship, a meditation on the unfathomable mystery of good and evil, a testimony to the enduring power of the ancient archetypes that haunt one Jewish family and the greater human family, The Lost is as complex and rich with meaning and story as the past it seeks to illuminate. A beautiful book, beautifully written.”  — Michael Chabon

In this rich and riveting narrative, a writer's search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II becomes a remarkably original epic—part memoir, part reportage, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work—that brilliantly explores the nature of time and memory, family and history.

The Lost begins as the story of a boy who grew up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust—an unmentionable subject that gripped his imagination from earliest childhood. Decades later, spurred by the discovery of a cache of desperate letters written to his grandfather in 1939 and tantalized by fragmentary tales of a terrible betrayal, Daniel Mendelsohn sets out to find the remaining eyewitnesses to his relatives' fates. That quest eventually takes him to a dozen countries on four continents and forces him to confront the wrenching discrepancies between the histories we live and the stories we tell. And it leads him, finally, back to the small Ukrainian town where his family's story began, and where the solution to a decades-old mystery awaits him.

Deftly moving between past and present, interweaving a world-wandering odyssey with childhood memories of a now-lost generation of immigrant Jews and provocative ruminations on biblical texts and Jewish history, The Lost transforms the story of one family into a profound, morally searching meditation on our fragile hold on the past. Deeply personal, grippingly suspenseful, and beautifully written, this literary tour de force illuminates all that is lost, and found, in the passage of time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061491801
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/13/2008
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 960
Sales rank: 478,780
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Daniel Mendelsohn a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, is the author of the international bestseller The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. He teaches at Bard College.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 16, 1960

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Classics, University of Virginia, 1982; M.A., Classics, Princeton University, 1989; Ph.D., 1994

Read an Excerpt

The Lost

A Search for Six of Six Million
By Daniel Mendelsohn

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Daniel Mendelsohn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060542977

Chapter One

The Formless Void

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 rooms in which this happened were located, more often than not, in Miami Beach, Florida, and the people on whom I had this strange effect were, like nearly everyone in Miami Beach in the mid-nineteen-sixties, old. Like nearly everyone else in Miami Beach at that time (or so it seemed to me then), these old people were Jews--Jews of the sort who were likely to lapse, when sharing prized bits of gossip or coming to the long-delayed endings of stories or to the punch lines of jokes, into Yiddish; which of course had the effect of rendering the climaxes, the points, of these stories and jokes incomprehensible to those of us who were young.

Like many elderly residents of Miami Beach in those days, these people lived in apartments or small houses that seemed, to those who didn't live in them, slightly stale; and which were on the whole quiet, except on those evenings when the sound of the Red Skelton or Milton Berle or Lawrence Welk shows blared from the black-and-white television sets. At certain intervals, however,their stale, quiet apartments would grow noisy with the voices of young children who had flown down for a few weeks in the winter or spring from Long Island or the New Jersey suburbs to see these old Jews, and who would be presented to them, squirming with awkwardness and embarrassment, and forced to kiss their papery, cool cheeks.

Kissing the cheeks of old Jewish relatives! We writhed, we groaned, we wanted to race down to the kidney-shaped heated swimming pool in back of the apartment complex, but first we had to kiss all those cheeks; which, on the men, smelled like basements and hair tonic and Tiparillos, and were scratchy with whiskers so white you'd often mistake them for lint (as my younger brother once did, who attempted to pluck off the offending fluff only to be smacked, ungently, on the side of the head); and, on the old women, gave off the vague aroma of face powder and cooking oil, and were as soft as the "emergency" tissues crammed into the bottom of their purses, crushed there like petals next to the violet smelling salts, wrinkled cough-drop wrappers, and crumpled bills. . . . The crumpled bills. Take this and hold it for Marlene until I come out, my mother's mother, whom we called Nana, instructed my other grandmother, as she handed her a small red leather purse containing a crinkled twenty-dollar bill one February day in 1965, just before they wheeled her into an operating room for some exploratory surgery. She had just turned fifty-nine, and wasn't feeling well. My grandmother Kay obeyed and took the purse with the crumpled bill, and true to her word she delivered it to my mother, who was still holding it a number of days later when Nana, laid in a plain pine box, as is the custom, was buried in the Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens, in the section owned (as an inscription on a granite gateway informs you) by the First Bolechower Sick Benevolent Association. To be buried here you had to belong to this association, which meant in turn that you had to have come from a small town of a few thousand people, located halfway around the world in a landscape that had once belonged to Austria and then to Poland and then to many others, called Bolechow.

Now it is true that my mother's mother--whose soft earlobes, with their chunky blue or yellow crystal earrings, I would play with as I sat on her lap in the webbed garden chair on my parents' front porch, and whom at one point I loved more than anyone else, which is no doubt why her death was the first event of which I have any distinct memories, although it's true that those memories are, at best, fragments (the undulating fish pattern of the tiles on the walls of the hospital waiting room; my mother saying something to me urgently, something important, although it would be another forty years before I was finally reminded of what it was; a complex emotion of yearning and fear and shame; the sound of water running in a sink)--my mother's mother was not born in Bolechow, and indeed was the only one of my four grandparents who was born in the United States: a fact that, among a certain group of people that is now extinct, once gave her a certain cachet. But her handsome and domineering husband, my grandfather, Grandpa, had been born and grew to young manhood in Bolechow, he and his six siblings, the three brothers and three sisters; and for this reason he was permitted to own a plot in that particular section of Mount Judah Cemetery. There he, too, lies buried now, along with his mother, two of his three sisters, and one of his three brothers. The other sister, the fiercely possessive mother of an only son, followed her boy to another state, and lies buried there. Of the other two brothers, one (so we were always told) had had the good sense and foresight to emigrate with his wife and small children from Poland to Palestine in the 1930s, and as a result of that sage decision was buried, in due time, in Israel. The oldest brother, who was also the handsomest of the seven siblings, the most adored and adulated, the prince of the family, had come as a young man to New York, in 1913; but after a scant year living with an aunt and uncle there he decided that he preferred Bolechow. And so, after a year in the States, he went back--a choice that, because he ended up happy and prosperous there, he knew to be the right one. He has no grave at all.


Excerpted from The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Mendelsohn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This

Joyce Carol Oates

“Daniel Mendelsohn has written a powerfully moving work of a “lost” family past. . . . A remarkable achievement.”

J. M. Coetzee

“A stirring detective work, The Lost is … deepened by reflections on the inescapable part that chance plays in history.”

Francine Prose

“A stunning memoir. . . . As suspenseful as a detective thriller, and as difficult to put down.”

Ron Rosenbaum

“Hugely ambitious yet intensely engaging. . . . Absorbing, novelistic. . . . Thought-provoking and original.”

Charles Simic

“The Lost is the most gripping, the most amazing true story I have read in years.”

Garry Wills

“Mendelsohn, a classicist, creates a stunning Odyssey here, an epic world-wandering.”

Samuel G. Freedman

“Stunning. . . . A singular achievement, a work of major significance and pummeling impact.”

Jonathan Safran Foer

“Epic and personal, meditative and suspenseful, tragic and at times hilarious, The Lost is a wonderful book.”

Michael Chabon

“A beautiful book, beautifully written.”

Rebecca Goldstein

“A stunning achievement. . . . Extraordinary.”

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