"The Lost Family is an extraordinary read, the kind of book that makes you sob and smile, the kind that gives you hope…. It is compassionate, masterful and disturbingly contemporary."—Tatiana de Rosnay, bestselling author of Sarah’s Key
The New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us creates a vivid portrait of marriage, family, and the haunting grief of World War II in this emotionally charged, beautifully rendered story that spans a generation, from the 1960s to the 1980s.
In 1965 Manhattan, patrons flock to Masha’s to savor its brisket bourguignon and impeccable service and to admire its dashing owner and head chef Peter Rashkin. With his movie-star good looks and tragic past, Peter, a survivor of Auschwitz, is the most eligible bachelor in town. But Peter does not care for the parade of eligible women who come to the restaurant hoping to catch his eye. He has resigned himself to a solitary life. Running Masha’s consumes him, as does his terrible guilt over surviving the horrors of the Nazi death camp while his wife, Masha—the restaurant’s namesake—and two young daughters perished.
Then exquisitely beautiful June Bouquet, an up-and-coming young model, appears at the restaurant, piercing Peter’s guard. Though she is twenty years his junior, the two begin a passionate, whirlwind courtship. When June unexpectedly becomes pregnant, Peter proposes, believing that beginning a new family with the woman he loves will allow him to let go of the horror of the past. But over the next twenty years, the indelible sadness of those memories will overshadow Peter, June, and their daughter Elsbeth, transforming them in shocking, heartbreaking, and unexpected ways.
Jenna Blum artfully brings to the page a husband devastated by a grief he cannot name, a frustrated wife struggling to compete with a ghost she cannot banish, and a daughter sensitive to the pain of both her own family and another lost before she was born. Spanning three cinematic decades, The Lost Family is a charming, funny, and elegantly bittersweet study of the repercussions of loss and love.
From the Author:
In the 1990s, I had the great privilege of interviewing Holocaust survivors for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Foundation. I went to survivors’ homes with a camera crew and 10 pages of memorized questions, and we recorded their testimonies for posterity: historical archives in Los Angeles, Israel, the Holocaust Museum in Washington—and, today, online.
Spielberg started the Shoah project as an answer to “revisionists”—people who claimed the Holocaust never happened. For five years, I sat in chairs opposite survivors, many of whom had not told their stories for five decades—even, sometimes, to their spouses who were also survivors! And while we preserved their histories, I tried to help guide them gently through their emotional minefields.
I interviewed survivors of Treblinka, Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Matthausen. Plaszow, the camp featured in Schindler’s List—that survivor recallled the Kommandant taking pot shots at prisoners with his rifle from his bathroom window. I interviewed partisans who fought Nazis in Polish forests and refugees who fled to China, Japan, South America, leaving their lives and families behind.
All the survivors’ testimonies are imprinted indelibly on me, and one in particular inspired The Lost Family. This was a gentleman who had been a chef in his native country. Like my book’s hero, Peter Raskin—also a chef and restaurateur—this survivor made it through Treblinka and Auschwitz before coming to America. One day, the survivor was fired from his job as a busboy in a busy restaurant—because his camp tattoo upset the American diners.
I was struck by that story, how cruelly ironic it was that after enduring unimaginable atrocities, a person could come to a safe place and be surrounded by people, even well-meaning ones, who would never understand what he’d gone through. I started thinking about the next chapter of the survivor’s life: emigrating to a new country, knowing nobody, not speaking the language, having lost everything and everyone, and having to start over.
And if the survivor started a new family, how would his experience translate for them? How would his trauma manifest in his behavior? What would his wife and children feel about what he’d gone through—guilt, rage, terrible tenderness and pity? What emotional oddities and barriers would they face?
While I was working on Peter’s section of The Lost Family, I spoke at an event in Florida. Afterwards, while I was signing books, a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes. She said, “My husband is the child of a survivor, and although he reveres his father—we all do—it has been so difficult. His father is emotionally closed down, and my husband has suffered terribly because of it. Please, please write about the family.”
I felt the Universe had given me a green light—a Godwink—to expand Peter’s story into a multi-generational saga of a whole family reacting to trauma. Peter’s American wife June and their daughter Elsbeth love Peter desperately, but when they can’t reach him despite their best efforts, they have to find their own ways to cope with the devastation that occurred decades ago and an ocean away.
The Lost Family is about trauma and rebirth, destruction and new beginnings, good intentions gone wrong—and the grace notes of humor and unexpected kindness. It’s about the people who bring you the most joy and pain: family. It’s about what I saw in my survivors: their tenacious life force, their stubborn, permanent hope. I hope The Lost Family inspires readers to think about their own families and the love we have for each other, no matter what.
Get The Lost Family reading group guide here.