cover image LOST IN AMERICA: A Journey with My Father

LOST IN AMERICA: A Journey with My Father

Sherwin B. Nuland, . . Knopf, $24 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-41294-3

In his late 30s and early 40s, National Book Award winner Nuland (How We Die) was gripped by a depression so unyielding to treatment he almost underwent a lobotomy (the procedure was halted by a young resident psychiatrist who refused to listen to his superiors). But as haunting as this beginning of Nuland's memoir is, it's eclipsed in power by the story he tells of his relationship with his father, an aging Jewish immigrant whose life was a series of family tragedies and illness. Avoiding the twin traps of nostalgia and emotional overkill, Nuland details, in beautiful, stark prose, his father's harsh life in America. Meyer Nudelman worked, and failed at, a variety of jobs and was broken by the death of his first child, the death of his wife and the near-fatal illness of another son. For him, America was never a land of opportunity, and his life sank into various debilitating physical ailments and unpredictable rages that inflicted terrible damage upon his son. The memoir's deep, shocking, emotional impact comes when Nuland, a student at Yale medical school, discovers by reading a textbook that his father's physical symptoms all indicated that he was suffering his whole adult life from tertiary syphilis. The shock of this discovery—which Meyer's doctors knew, but never told him—doesn't lead to an easy resolution. "In America" the author writes, "Meyer Nudelman was a man with no past," and by the end of the book readers realize that his dreams of a happier future were also impossible. Written with enormous empathy, yet without a hint of sentimentality, Nuland's memoir is both heartbreaking and breathtaking. (Jan.)