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Borden, D. (2010). The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. 513 pp.. Fort Da, 16(1):70-75.

(2010). Fort Da, 16(1):70-75

Book Reviews

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. 513 pp.

Reviewed by
Diane Borden, Ph.D.

That Which is Found: Daniel Mendelsohn and The Lost

Daniel Mendelsohn's epic search for lost family members and an erased way of life in the pre-WWII shtetls of Poland finds powerful expression in this multilayered and poetic narrative. The work makes a unique contribution to the vast library of Holocaust literature, which, not surprisingly, should be read with attention to psychoanalytic patterns of trauma: individual, historical, and transgenerational. Indeed, Mendelsohn's method of storytelling exemplifies in key ways the symptomology of trauma. Complex networks of stories and reflections spin out from a central search-and-detection trajectory. Segments and fragments include memoir, confessional, documentary, biography, autobiography, even travelogue. On a parallel path Mendelsohn practices a kind of midrash, interpreting sacred rabbinical texts. Yet there is something fixated, obsessional, and manic about the storytelling, which is always on the verge of logorrhea.

As narrative, The Lost proceeds in two antithetical paths. One moves compellingly forward as a detective narrative, with clues and searches, discoveries and false leads, shocks of revelation side by side with enigmas, ultimately leading to resolution, at least, of a poetic kind. At the same time the narrative digresses, repeats itself, slows down, can be stylistically indulgent, momentarily tedious, and redundant. The literary quality of The Lost is not evidenced so much in the style of the sentence structure as through the sprawl and insistence of the narrative design. In conversation with psychoanalytic and academic colleagues, I can anecdotally report judgments of the work based on this double path. Some have praised the memoir as quite extraordinary, beautifully written, a work that “has changed my life.” Others found it narcissistic and prolix. I don't think, however, that anyone could read the book with indifference.

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