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by Hans-Ulrich Treichel, Carol Brown Janeway (Translator)

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Not since The Reader has a work of fiction so stunningly evoked the guilt and shame that resounds in postwar Germany. In this debut novel of astonishing originality, we bear witness to a family ravaged with regret at the loss of their child.

As a young boy, the narrator learns that his parents lost their firstborn son while fleeing the advancing Russian


Not since The Reader has a work of fiction so stunningly evoked the guilt and shame that resounds in postwar Germany. In this debut novel of astonishing originality, we bear witness to a family ravaged with regret at the loss of their child.

As a young boy, the narrator learns that his parents lost their firstborn son while fleeing the advancing Russian Army in 1945. Though his family has comfortably settled in Westphalen, the memory of Arnold continues to haunt them. The narrator shares his parents' anguish, but he can't resist feeling resentful, for his brother's absence is the most defining aspect of his life. When his parents learn of a foundling that resembles Arnold, they embark on a horrific quest to claim him as their own, only to endure a series of unanticipated twists that lead to a startling denouement. At turns uncanny, subtle, and perversely amusing, Lost is a chilling novel of mesmerizing power.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A missing child casts a long shadow over his younger brother's existence in this slim, astringent first novel by German poet and professor Treichel, enthusiastically received upon its German publication in 1998. Thrust into a stranger's arms in a moment of terror and confusion during the Russian advance on Germany during WWII, baby Arnold disappears without a trace. His petit bourgeois mother and father never quite recover from the loss, though they make a new life for themselves in a small town in Westphalia and have another son. Stifled by his brother's ghostly presence ("my undead brother had the leading role in the family and had assigned me a supporting part"), this unnamed second child, the book's young narrator, is dragged unwillingly into his parents' all-encompassing search for Arnold. The search narrows to focus on "foundling 2307" in a Red Cross facility, who is reported to bear an almost exact resemblance to the narrator. But before foundling 2307 can be viewed in person, a prior relationship must be indicated, and a bureaucratic odyssey of blood tests, fingerprinting, cranial comparisons and official reports ensues. The narrator, caught between his distraught mother and his irritable father, a work-obsessed meat and sausage wholesaler, rebels silently, unmoved even when his father suffers a fatal heart attack upon returning from a final series of tests to discover that his cold-storage shed has been ransacked. The deadpan humor of the boy's observations and the absurdist quality of the proceedings compete evocatively with the novel's real traumas, and the final scene, which abruptly turns the emotional tables, casts new light on all that has gone before. Treichel's finely tuned prose moves at high velocity in a continuous text virtually bare of paragraphs and chapters. It is well served by Janeway's English translation, as the novel ticks from beginning to end like expert, ominous clockwork, measuring out blackly comedic alienation against the bleak backdrop of postwar Germany. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
The narrator of this story is a young boy whose parents and older brother, Arnold, suffered through the advance of the Russian army in 1945. We immediately learn that Arnold was lost as his parents fled. His younger brother thought he'd starved but his parents tell him the truth. Now resettled in another part of Germany, his parents are determined to find Arnold. They subject themselves and their remaining son to tests, humiliation and anything necessary to find the lost son. All of this is a fruitless effort. Although bleak, the story is intriguing and captivating. It is almost a stream of consciousness with no paragraphs or chapters, just a running narrative. Even in something so short, we get to know the characters and their anguish. Lost offers yet another perspective on the horrors of WW II. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Random House/Vintage, 136p, 21cm, 99-21533, $11.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Robin S. Holab-Abelman; White Plains, NY January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
Frankfurter Allegemein Zeitung
This story that Hans-Ulrich Treichel tells of a lost son is sad, comic, macabre, funny, disturbing, banal, unprecidented, and a small masterpiece... It is material that once shaped both classical tragedies and Shakespeare's comedies of mistaken identities; Treichel shapes it into German tragicomedy.
Der Spiegel
Treichel's use of the first-person storytelling voice allows him to take the most private experience and give it universal validity... In Lost, Treichel has given us a small masterpiece.
Frankfurter Rundschau
Treichel is one of the few comic novelties we have today... He doesn't tell jokes; he finds the comedy inherent in things themselves and leaves it to his readers to discover whether they are ready (and willing) to laugh at what he sees and understands.
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel from Treichel, a well-known German poet and critic, turns a fragmented family's arduous search for its missing son into an eerie and perversely amusing metaphysical puzzle. The nameless narrator, a boy of indeterminate age, lives with his parents in a village near the Polish border—and with the knowledge that he is both their only child and the child they love least. For an older brother, Arnold, he eventual learns, was "lost" during WWII when, fleeing the invading Russian army, Arnold's terrified mother had impulsively passed her baby to another woman—who immediately disappeared into a crowd, never to be seen again. Years later, the narrator observes with mingled resentment and fear the efforts of his still-traumatized mother and businesslike father (a prosperous meat wholesaler) to determine, through genetic testing, whether an anonymous orphan—designated "foundling 2307" and said to bear an "amazing likeness" to their other son—is indeed the missing Arnold. Treichel stretches this intriguing premise into a wry psychodrama focused on the narrator's increasing confusions about his own identity, confusions that are nicely balanced by satirical glimpses of officialese red tape and impersonality (the family's visit to Heidelberg's Forensic Anthropology Institute is a deadpan-comic nightmare worthy of Kafka). After a somewhat stodgy beginning riddled with affected redundancy (virtually an entire page is consumed by the narrator's reiterated objections to being "squeezed" by his mother), the novel moves with impressive swiftness toward a chilling surprise ending triggered by several unanticipated reversals (the narrator's passive mother becomes the familyspokesperson; her decision to adopt foundling 2307, no matter whether he is or isn't Arnold, is thwarted; and the narrator's fear of being displaced by the brother his parents really want is assuaged—in a way he cannot have foreseen). A gripping and resonant parable, done with remarkable economy, subtlety, and finesse.

From the Publisher
"A brilliant tragicomic story."--The New York Times

"Treichel's poetic genius allows the fertile ambiguities that Grass and Heinrich Böll planted so adroitly a generation ago to water the guilt and obsession of this particular...family."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.72(w) x 7.59(h) x 0.74(d)

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Read an Excerpt

My brother squatted on a white blanket and laughed into the camera. That was during the war, my mother said, the last year of the war, at home. Home was the East, and my mother had been born in the East. As my mother spoke the words "at home" she began to cry, as she so often did when the subject of my brother came up. His name was Arnold, like my father's. Arnold was a happy child, said my mother, looking at the photograph. She didn't say any more, and I didn't say anything either, and looked at Arnold squatting on a white blanket and being happy. I don't know what was making him happy, it was the war after all, and besides that he was in the East, and he was still happy. I envied him his happiness, I envied him the white blanket, and I envied him his place in the photo album, too. Arnold was right at the front of the album, ahead even of my parents' wedding pictures and the portraits of the grandparents, while I was way at the back. And Arnold's picture was quite big, while most of the photos I was in were small, not to say tiny. Snapshots taken by my parents with what they called a Box Brownie, and apparently this box thing could only make little tiny photos. You had to look at the photos with me in them very carefully to recognize anything at all. For example, one of these tiny snapshots was of a pool with several children in it, and one of them was me. All you could see of me was my head, because I didn't know how to swim then, and I was sitting in the water, which came up almost to my chin. And my head was partly hidden by a child standing in the water in front of me, so that the minuscule photo with me in it only showed part of my head right above the surface of the water. Andwhat's more there was a shadow on the visible part of my head which was probably made by the child standing in front of me, so that the only bit of me you could really see was my right eye. While my brother Arnold looked not just happy but important even when he was a baby, in most of the photos from my childhood I am either only partly visible or sometimes not really visible at all. One of the times I was not really visible at all was in the photo of my christening. My mother held a white cushion on her arm, with a white coverlet over it. Under the coverlet was me, which you could tell because it had been pushed aside at the bottom of the cushion and the toes of a baby foot were peeking out. All subsequent photos taken of me in my childhood continued this tradition, one way or the other, except that in later photos the foot was replaced by a right arm, or half a profile, or an eye, as in the picture from the swimming pool. I would have accepted my truncated self in the family album, if my mother hadn't made a habit of reaching for the album to show me the pictures in it. Every time, the little tiny Box Brownie photos that showed me or rather various parts of me were leafed through hastily, while the photo of Arnold, which seemed life-size to me, was the object of endless contemplation. As a result I usually sat next to my mother on the sofa looking as miserable as I felt, and staring at cheerful and un-miserable Arnold, as my mother got more and more upset. I was still a small child when I became accustomed to my mother's tears, and I didn't spend any time wondering why Arnold's face made her cry so often. And the fact that although Arnold was my brother, I had never seen him in the flesh, didn't bother me in those first years, particularly because I was quite happy not having to share my room with him. At some point my mother explained what had happened to Arnold, inasmuch as she told me he had starved to death during their flight from the Russians. "Starved," said my mother, "starved in my arms." Because she herself had been more or less starving during the long trek from the East to the West, and she had no milk to feed the baby, and nothing else besides. When I asked if nobody else had had milk for the baby either, she said nothing, nor did she answer all my other, more detailed questions about the flight and my brother starving. So Arnold was dead, which was certainly very sad, but it made it easier for me to deal with his photo. Happy, easygoing Arnold even struck a chord in me, and I was proud to have a brother who was dead and still looked so happy and easygoing. I mourned Arnold and was proud of him, and I shared my room with him and wished him all the milk in the world. I had a dead brother and felt I had been singled out by fate. None of my playmates had a dead brother, let alone one who'd starved to death while fleeing the Russians.

Meet the Author

Hans-Ulrich Treichel is a professor of German literature at the University of Leipzig.

Translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway.

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