I’ve been reading Daniel Mendelsohn’s book, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million.
Mendelsohn grew up in an assimilated family in New York. In the background of his visits to his older relatives in Florida lay a story about a great-uncle who remained in the family’s ancestral town of Bolechow, Ukraine, only to be murdered during the Holocaust along with his wife and four daughters. The writer’s grandfather and the other siblings had already emigrated to Israel and the US.
The author intersperses his story with an analysis of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah and that of the modern commentator Rabbi Richard Elliot Friedman. Mendelsohn continuously revisits the theme of sibling rivalry– in the Torah, within his grandfather’s family, and among his own siblings (he broke his own brother’s arm as a child). I’m only about a third of the way through, but we can already see that the relationship between the brother in Bolechow and his American siblings is central to the story.
When Mendelsohn travels to Bolechow, Ukraine with his family, a man named Alex serves as guide and translator. Is this the same garrulous Alex with the hysterically convoluted English that appears in Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Everything is Illuminated? Everything is Illuminated is a (semi-fictional?) book about an American Jew’s search for information about relatives from the Ukraine.
Mendelsohn gives Henry James a run for his money with his sentence structure:
And I might add that virtually all of the information provided by the same important source, the central database at Yad Vashem, for “Shmuel Yeger” (or “Ieger”) and “Ester Jeger” (and the three daughters the database attributes to them: “Lorka Jeiger,” “Frida Yeger,” and “Rachel Jejger”) is demonstrably wrong, from the spelling of their names to the names of their parents (“Shmuel Ieger was born in Bolechov, Poland in 1895 to Elkana and Yona,” an error which, I thought when I first read this, eradicates my great-grandmother Taube Mittelmark from history,* and with her the sibling tensions that may well have resulted in Shmiel’s decision to leave New York in 1914 and return to Bolechow, a decision to which his presence in this error-filled archive is attributable) to the years in which they were born and died.
*Presumably he figures out that Yona is a Hebraicized version of Taube (my own mother’s name), meaning dove.
Despite its length, the passage is readable, and is an example of the way the author maintains suspense by hinting at later-to-be-revealed surprises.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest.