Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Lost Part II

I finished reading Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost this morning. Rarely has a book struck me the way this book did. Because the book is so close to home, which is to say, because I have tried to find information via travel to Poland, through, etc, and have come up empty, I can relate to what the author was going through, why he was so interested in it, and why he took it so seriously. The difference, of course, is that the author accomplished largely what he set out to accomplish. He asked the questions early enough to learn all he could about his familial roots, and when he was old enough, he began making the trips around the world to find out the details about those who were lost.

He also had a great deal of luck; it's almost unbelievable, as one reads through the pages, to see how all the pieces came together. It was a serendipitous experience, being in the right place at the right time, one clue leading to another, a seemingly unimportant detail leading to a significant finding. Just when he thought he was done with his research, he would meet one more person who could give him information, and that person would send him to another, and another, and finally, he's in the house where two of his ancestors were found hiding during the war, setting foot in the hiding place itself. Later, we learn that he finds himself standing at the very spot where his ancestors where shot after they were discovered.

I confess to feeling a sense of envy as I read through the pages. The sense of accomplishment the author must have felt when he finished his four/five year tour, visiting numerous continents and elderly survivors who knew his ancestors from 60 years prior and could remember enough to provide enough information to paint a picture that brings those lost people back to a small degree.

I would absolutely love to find out what happened to my grandmother's sister. I doubt very much I will, and of course, with so many other things to worry about, it's difficult to dedicate the time to such an effort. It is, for all intents and purposes, the equivalent of searching for a needle in a proverbial haystack, especially since her sister probably, at least as far as she knows, was not in a camp, or on any deportation list that was kept by the perpetrators.

I can think of one other book that had an impact on me as profound as The Lost. And yet, the book is a work of fiction, not a real adventure capturing the lives of those in the present as they seek information about the lives of the past. The book is about Vietnam and it's call The Things They Carried. I first read the book when I was in high school, when I was captivated by the Vietnam war and when I was preparing an essay on PTSD, which at the time, was something new, whereas today, PTSD is widely accepted as an outcome of prolonged exposure to combat (among other things). I then read the book again in 2006, and it didn't bring about the same reaction I had to it when I was a teenager. I'm not sure why - while I remembered bits and pieces, especially the ending which is easily the most profound portion, I did not think reading it again after more than a decade would be like seeing a movie for the nth time, where the suspense is no longer there because the ending is known. With that said, I highly recommend it.

And so, my next step is send some names and birth dates via email to the Polish State Archives to see if I'll have any luck, once again, on finding something from the past.

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