It’s rare that a 500-page, first-person, non-fiction account propels a reader through it with the same urgency a good mystery novel can. Yet, in many ways Mendelsohn’s five-year search for six family members who were “lost” in the Holocaust is, in fact, a mystery book — right down to the last page. The book takes us through years of research — spanning several continents, dozens of interviews and myriad attempts to recreate characters and events nearly lost to time. Slowly, with great emotional, intellectual and physical effort, Mendelsohn pulls his great-uncle and wife and “their four beautiful daughters” from Bolechow, out of obscurity.
He can be forgiven for a certain degree of repetitiveness; his unapologetic insistence on personalizing the stories of the six, of celebrating any detail about them, no matter how tiny, is a double triumph: it avoids the easy sentimentality of the Holocaust and drives home the awareness of just how heart-breakingly enormous the loss was, and continues to be.