Blum (Those Who Save Us) examines the second family of a Holocaust survivor—his restless, ex-supermodel wife and their troubled teenage daughter—in this crisp vision of how seemingly random choices test love, loyalty, and survival. Peter is haunted by his failure to save his wife and twin daughters from death in Nazi Germany. Years later, in 1965, he rises to success as a celebrated chef in New York City with the help of illegal funds from cousin Sol. June gives up her career as a model to marry Peter and later raise their only child, Elsbeth, but then begins to doubt her suburban life—and the emotionally distant Peter—amid the women’s liberation movement in 1975. Elsbeth, though pampered and privileged, throws herself into the drug-fueled, punk-populated New York City art world in 1985 to find the recognition and love she craves, risking her life through starvation to be the muse of photographer Julian. Blum avoids the sap of happy endings and easy resolutions in this perfect encapsulation of the changing times and turbulence of mid- and late-20th-century America. Her story of a family struggling to tell the truth to one another—and to themselves—is bolstered by memorable characters, to whom readers will become attached.
~ Publishers Weekly
A Holocaust survivor turned Manhattan chef salves the pain of losing his wife and daughters by spending hours fussing over påtés and latkes. Then a bright-eyed fashion model swoops in offering what he never dreamed he'd find again: happiness. Blum plumbs the depths of loss and love in this exquisite page-turner.
~ People Magazine
The Holocaust haunts two generations of a glamorous New York City family in this easily digested read from Jenna Blum. Peter is a German Holocaust survivor who’s dedicated his life to running Masha, an Upper East Side restaurant named for the wife he lost in the war. When he meets June he thinks he can finally love again, but his refusal to examine his psychological scars only begets more trauma for his new wife and their teenage daughter, Elsbeth. Readers are granted rich descriptions of decadent foods and New York nightlife through the ages, alongside brutal descriptions of self-sabotage. The novel spans three decades, from the Sixties to the Eighties, but Blum’s sense of tension and mystery drive the plot forward at a delightful pace. She takes on the difficult task of rendering generational trauma visible, and does it with such humor and empathy, you can’t help but be swept along for the ride.
~ The Village Voice
The devastation wrought by the Holocaust haunts a chef and his second family. Blum’s (The Stormchasers, 2010, etc.) third novel is all about the occasionally dire consequences of seemingly innocuous choices. It has three sections, told successively from the third-person vantage point of New York chef Peter, his supermodel wife, June, and their teenage daughter, Elsbeth. Peter, a German-Jewish émigré and a survivor of Auschwitz, deeply regrets not having heeded warnings to get his parents, wife, and twin daughters out of Germany before it was too late. In the United States, he throws himself into running his restaurant, Masha’s, named after his wife, who disappeared, along with their daughters, during a Nazi roundup. Although Masha’s gains a modicum of acclaim (kudos from Craig Claiborne and regular patronage by Walter Cronkite), it ultimately falls victim to a clash between Peter and his wealthy cousin, Sol, his primary investor and only living relative. June, 19 years Peter’s junior, marries him on impulse and gives up her career, although her fame was approaching that of Twiggy. She grows frustrated trying to pierce Peter’s adamantine reserve and rebels with “women’s lib” consciousness-raising sessions and an affair with a Vietnam vet. She’s on the verge of leaving the marriage when Peter suffers a heart attack and must give up work. Elsbeth deals with weight issues, bulimia, her constant comparison of her looks with her mother’s, her father’s sudden decline, and her infatuation with a roué photographer in the Mapplethorpe mold. One of the principal pleasures here is the accurate period window dressing of mid-1960s New York City, '70s New Jersey, and the '80s Manhattan punk world. The writing, evocative yet unassuming, conveys the interiority of the characters, even the minor ones, elevating them beyond the stereotypical. The emphasis here is not on Nazi atrocities, which are only hinted at, but on surviving the banality of domineering relatives, bad marital choices, suburban mores, and body-image woes.
An unsentimental, richly detailed study of loss and its legacy.
~ Kirkus, starred review
The Holocaust haunts Peter Rashkin. He owns a popular restaurant in 1965 New York; however, he hides the tattoo on his arm and the scars on his body and will not speak about his first wife, Masha, and twin daughters who were Hitler's victims while he survived. But when he meets a young model named June, Peter lowers his guard and begins a courtship. Yet over the next 20 years, his secret guilt destroys the new life he tries to make with June and their daughter, Elsbeth. Blum (Those Who Save Us) again skillfully explores the endless nightmares and pain of Holocaust survivors. Her sensitive depiction of Peter and his new family demonstrates how love doesn' t always conquer all. She also shows how being kept in the dark about family secrets may lead to poor decisions on the part of those who want to know what happened but are unable to discover the truth.
VERDICT. This exquisitely crafted and compassionate novel offers a lesson in honesty, regardless of how difficult the truth may be. It will offer plenty of discussion for book groups.
~ Andrea Kempf, Library Journal, starred review
Nazis came for them on a Saturday—the day Peter Raskin lost his wife, two little girls, and his freedom. Peter’s nightmare of being rounded up haunts him even 40 years later. He can’t talk about Auschwitz or his family, although he owns a successful Manhattan restaurant, Masha’s, named after his lost wife, and he cooks obsessively, with a gleam in his eye. Eventually, he meets the lovely June Bouquet; they marry and have a child, Elsbeth, and life looks good. But the shadow of Peter’s wartime experiences affects his new family in subtle ways, eroding the bond between them. In the three sections of this gripping novel, Blum, author of Those Who Save Us (2004), displays her keen eye for character with an intense focus on Peter, June, and Elsbeth over decades of silence, transferred emotions, and interactions with others. Blum dramatizes the lingering effects of the war through the intertwining stories of families past and present, personalizing the themes of survivor guilt and shame but also injecting surprising glimpses of humor and hope. Each unforgettable character in this deeply moving novel brings new meaning to the familiar phrase “never forget.” Elie Wiesel’s A Mad Desire to Dance (2009) and Michael Chabon’s Moonglow (2016) also share similar themes, depth of character, and a sense of hope in the face of tragic loss.
— Booklist, starred review
The Holocaust suffused Blum’s first novel — the best-selling book-club favorite “Those Who Save Us”; the cataclysm’s lasting effects hover over this one, too. Here, readers will encounter a New York chef who also happens to be an Auschwitz survivor. And they’ll meet the family he builds in New York while he continues to grieve those whom he lost in Europe.
~ Erica Dreifus, Jewish Journal
Peter Rashkin's wife and young daughters perished in a Nazi death camp. Now, in the mid-1960s, he's established himself as a leading New York restaurateur. Into his life walks June, a beguiling fashion model who upends Peter's careful hold on his memories. The novel traces three decades as they are experienced by Peter, June, and later their daughter, Elsbeth, all trying to come to terms with the imprint of the past in this absorbing and emotionally resonant story.
~ The Christian Science Monitor
THE LOST FAMILY opens in 1965, about 20 years after Peter’s GRAND CENTRAL story. He remains a wounded soul, still haunted and mourning the family he lost in the war. His wife, Masha, and their two daughters are the unseen characters threading throughout the tale. It is not necessary to have read the novella to love and appreciate THE LOST FAMILY as the stories stand alone, though certainly his experiences in 1945 inform and influence his character and story later.
Blum says of Peter that “he was inspired by a survivor I had the immense privilege of interviewing for the Steven Spielberg Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. We know about the Nazi atrocities, but we rarely consider the next chapter: the survivor coming to a new country to rebuild --- while coping with the memory of the loved ones he lost. And when a weeping reader told me that her husband, a survivor’s son, had grappled his whole life with his beloved father’s emotional distance, I knew I had to write about the effects of war on an entire family.”
THE LOST FAMILY is touching, transformative and heartbreaking. It takes the reader through three decades --- 1965, 1975 and 1985 --- with each told from one character’s viewpoint: first Peter, then his second wife, June Bouquet, and lastly their daughter, Elsbeth. In each part, in addition to the story, I thoroughly enjoyed the cultural tidbits, popular language and references of each era. I remember those tennis socks with the balls at the heels.
Jenna’s writing is entirely delicious! Besides being an author, she is an avid cook and creates and tests her own recipes used in the story. She even constructed whole menus for Peter’s restaurant, which she includes in the book. While writing THE LOST FAMILY, she was using ingredients from her garden, and at one point her agent asked if she was growing rosemary. Jenna responded that, yes, she had huge bushes of it. Her agent suspected this because nearly every recipe included the herb. Thanks to Jenna for that fun story shared at her book launch this month in Boston.
Book clubs and historical fiction fans, along with lovers of good storytelling, will not want to miss THE LOST FAMILY.
~ Leah DeCesare, Bookreporter.com
“Jenna Blum shines a powerful light on how the past swings back and how we must face it. 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
“I was spellbound from the start of The Lost Family. The writing is so smart and empathetic... This is a dazzling novel of great compassion, honestly reckoning with the time-and-place-spanning ripple effect of great pain as well as love.”
~ Laura Moriarty, New York Times best-selling author of The Chaperone
“Deftly executed, deeply moving, and full of heart, Jenna Blum’s The Lost Family is an evocative look at the legacy of war and how it impacts one memorable family.”
~ Jami Attenberg, bestselling author of The Middlesteins