German Jewish siblings Millie and David managed to escape to the United States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. After the war, the two successful young adults return to their home city to answer their questions and seek revenge for their family's suffering.
This is a deeply felt, atmospheric book, and Feldman does a tremendous job of evoking a sense of time and place, particularly as this is a portion of the war that I have read very little about. But even more than immersing readers in her setting, Feldman writes the emotions of the moment...with vivid, unsentimental prose. Every scene, every emotion is stark and immediate, and Feldman truly makes you feel like you are right there with her characters ... If you read only one WWII novel this year, make it The Living and the Lost. Feldman’s combination of a unique setting, meticulous research and a haunted heroine living in a morally gray moment makes this a truly refreshing and crucial addition to any bookshelf. She has outdone herself with this gripping, heartfelt novel, and readers will find themselves wowed by her rendering of post-war Germany and the challenges faced by those tasked with rebuilding a country bolstered by decency, civility and humanity.
... we get vivid glimpses of life in this unsettled landscape, with uncanny scenes of American military officers enjoying beers in former Nazi halls, German Fräuleins by their sides, and the abundance in military black markets contrasting with the extreme lack faced by Berliners ... The Living and the Lost moves along quickly, and its descriptions and dialogue feel true to the era. While the novel would have benefited from more interiority from both Millie and David, it’s still an illuminating historical drama with plenty of action and even some romance, evoking a lesser-known historical period—the immediate postwar era and Berlin before the wall—and the complications and compromises that come with the end of war.
In The Living and the Lost, author Feldman has captured that period in time when the world and the lives of its survivors was in tatters. Millie finds love but much more: She finds herself. This vivid novel should be required reading for those who are wondering why we still to this day find that it is far easier to hate other people than to pause and try to understand them.