Heartache, even decades later, can still feel like it just happened yesterday. Even though Peter in “The Lost Family” by Jenna Blum survived Word War II and brutal treatment by the Nazis, his wife and twin toddler daughters did not.
He came to America to start over and as much as he has tried, he hasn’t been able to forget what happened to them. His cousin Sol and Sol’s wife, Ruth, help him start a new life and try to convince him to move on. Instead, Peter disappears into his work. His restaurant, Masha’s, is a success, but every dish is based on what he and his wife Masha dreamed about serving. So, even at work, he is reminded of his wife and daughters. Peter is quite handsome and his success makes him an eligible bachelor. But, he wants no part of that until a gorgeous model, June, enters his restaurant. At first, their relationship is flirtatious, but eventually, Peter realizes he loves her and they marry.
June knows that she can never compete with the ghost of Masha and even though there is love, there is always a sadness that follows Peter. When their daughter, Elsbeth, grows, she, too, feels like she can’t compete with her dead half-siblings or her mother’s beauty. The sadness in this family overshadows the happiness and success Peter and June have. There always seems be a bitterness toward each other. Elsbeth senses the pain in the house and can’t wait for cooking dates with her father when the two of them really connect and Peter seems more at ease.
Blum is a talented writer and her research is meticulous. Blum’s attention to detail and creative descriptions of the restaurant business during the 1960s to 1980s in New York City, as well as June’s visits back to the Midwest (even Cedar Rapids gets a mention) and the modeling business makes every page an adventure. The reader is immersed in New York City and the description of the food makes your mouth water. But, sadness seeps across the pages and the novel gets a bit heavy at times. There isn’t much joy or laughter. There is love, but unfortunately, it doesn’t show in ways that most people expect.
The story of this family is told in three parts over three decades. We first get Peter’s story starting in 1965. Then it jumps ahead to 1975 for June’s story. Some years are missing, but readers gets the gist of what’s been happening through flashbacks. Then Elsbeth is suddenly a teenager in 1985 and we learn about her struggles with her weight, her unhappy parents, and her dreams. Sadly, Elsbeth turns to destructive measures to fit in and feel loved. Your heart aches for her and you want to shake her parents to get them to see what’s happening in front of them.
This story offers readers a new perspective on life after World War II and how the atrocities never leave the memories of those who suffered. Their memories then affect the lives of those they are connected to and the ripple effect can be wide and far. Blum’s handling of this sensitive story highlights the difficulties as well as the hope for a better future.