Book Review: The Living and the Lost by Ellen Feldman

About the Book:

Title: The Living and the Lost

Author: Ellen Feldman

Page Length: 352

Publication Date: Sept. 7, 2021

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Synopsis: From the author of Paris Never Leaves You, a gripping story of a young German Jewish woman who returns to Allied Occupied Berlin from America to face the past and unexpected future

Millie Mosbach and her brother David escaped to the United States just before Kristallnacht, leaving their parents and little sister in Berlin. Now they are both back in their former hometown, haunted by ghosts and hoping against hope to find their family. Millie works in the office responsible for rooting out the most dedicated Nazis from publishing. Like most of their German-born American colleagues, the siblings suffer from rage at Germany and guilt at their own good fortune. Only Millie’s boss, Major Harry Sutton, seems strangely eager to be fair to the Germans.

Living and working in bombed-out Berlin, a latter day Wild West where the desperate prey on the unsuspecting; spies ply their trade; black markets thrive, and forbidden fraternization is rampant, Millie must come to terms with a past decision made in a moment of crisis, and with the enigmatic sometimes infuriating Major Sutton who is mysteriously understanding of her demons. Atmospheric and page-turning, The Living and the Lost is a story of survival, love, and forgiveness, of others and of self. 

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My Review:

That’s what most of us, Jews as well as Germans, were guilty of. Turning away. Averting our eyes. And each time we did, the next time became easier.

The Living and the Lost is a complex, layered, and moving story that offers a unique perspective on post-war Germany. The author’s writing, especially the imagery and use of flashbacks, immerses you into the protagonist’s journey. The story shows the devastating effects of the war, both physical and emotional, and the fear, anger, destruction, and desperation left behind.

Millie and her brother David managed to get out of Berlin at the start of the war and lived in the United States, but they were separated from their parents and younger sister and have no idea what happened to them. Now Millie and David have both returned to Berlin to help with the post-war de-Nazification efforts and to find out what happened to their parents.

Millie is charged with interviewing people for publishing roles. This might not be the best job for a woman whose guilt and shame over the secret she carries, as well as her hatred for Germans and Germany, defines her. David is a soldier for the American military, though his specific role is unclear for much of the novel.

Post-war Berlin is chaotic, dangerous, and broken, and the author describes the war’s devastating aftermath vividly. Feldman skillfully weaves the past and the present together to create stories within stories. Flashbacks to Millie and David’s time in America and other characters’ experiences during the war slowly reveal what happened to Millie and David, and what led to their separation from their parents and younger sister. Their story, as well as the myriad of other stories in the book, show the horrors and devastation of the war. It also talks about racism and how anti-Semitism permeated all aspects of their lives even when they lived in America and after the war.

All of the characters are survivors, and they struggle with their own demons and go through their own trials and tribulations. Their stories are painful and devastating, and yet there is a glimpse of hope too. It’s an interesting juxtaposition because in the midst of this tragedy and suffering, there are some moving and heart-warming times. For example, Millie experiences a slow-building romance in the story, which is wonderful. Millie goes through so much, and I think her relationship with her love interest helped her grow, heal, and become a little more understanding.

The story explores so many conflicting and confusing emotions experienced by the survivors of the war – guilt, fear, sadness, relief, happiness, anger – and it makes you think about some really thought-provoking questions. How do you find happiness and move on when so many have suffered? How do you move forward? How do you get past the hate and guilt? What d you do when you are living but lost?

A moving story about guilt, forgiveness, and figuring out how to move on when all hope feels lost, this is a powerful and poignant read that I won’t soon forget. I’m so thankful to St. Martin’s Griffin for sending a copy of the book. All thoughts are my own.


Favorite Lines:

It was easy to hate from a distance. She was surprised to find how much energy it took up close.

The Germans will never forgive us for what they did to us.

Loss can be consoled. Pain can be solaced. But there is no comfort for shame. Because shame is not the result of wrong suffered but of a wrong committed. Nothing can breech the isolation of that.


I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy WWII fiction and/or historical fiction.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Living and the Lost by Ellen Feldman

  1. Excellent review Julie. I have not read any books about Germany after the war. It would have been an extremely sad, tense and difficult time. I understand about the anger. Not sure if this is a book for me or not, I will have to think about it, but it sure sounds like an important book to read.

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