The Lost Family

Written by Jenna Blum
Review by Helene Williams

Peter Rashkin is the handsome owner and chef of Masha’s, the place to eat, and be seen eating, in 1965 New York City. Peter puts his heart into his cooking, because his true passion was lost, along with his family, in Auschwitz. As a wartime immigrant, Peter struggled to fit into the United States, but found solace in cooking recipes created by his wife, Masha. Trapped by memories, Peter is also under the thumb of his uncle Sol, who holds the deed to the restaurant and controls many of the food and labor contracts. When he meets the much younger, vivacious model June Bouquet, Peter thinks maybe he’s ready to try to love again.

What follows is two decades of contrasts, between Peter’s lost family and his new one, between his heart and his brain, and his wife and his daughter. The narrative is divided into thirds, with each of the main characters—Peter, June, and their daughter Elspeth—claiming a section. Those multiple perspectives create nuanced, fully developed protagonists within the larger story. Blum is deft with both description and dialogue, creating a believable wartime Berlin and a swinging ´60s Westchester County, New York, as well as bringing out the personalities of characters both major and minor.

An unfortunate number of anachronisms mar what is otherwise a touching, delicately-written story. Readers will be jarred to read about Honeycrisp apples on Masha’s menu in 1965, when grafting and cultivation had barely begun; the same goes for voicemail on a chunky mobile phone in 1985, and so on. More attention to the accuracy of the details of the time would make for even more realistic characters and a stronger narrative that covers multiple continents and generations.