The Lost Family, Jenna Blum’s new novel, transports and immerses the reader in the 1960-1980s suburbs and city of New York. The title refers to myriad losses families experience.
Peter Raskin, a German-Jewish émigré and survivor of Auschwitz, lost his family during a Nazi roundup. Harboring guilt for not saving them, he maintains an impenetrable wall around his heart. But while secrets we keep and grief we ignore seem innocuous and ours alone, the consequences for others can be injurious.
Once in America, Peter opens one of New York’s finest restaurants, to which he dedicates all his time and energy. June Bouquet, 20 years his junior and a model whose career is on the rise, catches Peter’s gaze, and they fall in love. When June becomes pregnant the two marry, and have a daughter, Elsbeth. There will be painful loss for this family, too, but things will also be found.
Immensely smart and insightful, Blum works her magic by including details to bring alive each decade. Whether domestic, urban, or bucolic, we see and smell a mown lawn; we dodge the cracks of a cement city sidewalk. We recall the cravings for TAB; we squint in the sunlight and smell the chlorine of a country club pool. We hear the kitchen noises; savor the rich sauce of the tender beef bourguignon.
Blum has created characters so well drawn we feel their love, and accept their missteps. I wanted to savor the experience of reading about Peter, June and Elsbeth, but couldn’t wait to get to the end.