What She Lost

Written by Melissa W. Hunter
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Described as part memoir, part fiction, What She Lost is an emotional story closely based on the life of the author’s grandmother.

The book opens in Olkusz, Poland, in the months preceding Hitler’s rise to power. The Waldmans are a close-knit family, with seven children ranging from toddlers to age 18. The protagonist, Sarah (the author’s grandmother), is devastated at the loss of her older sister due to illness, and it affects the family deeply, pulling them even closer together. When it becomes clear that the Jews of the town are in danger, it is too late for the family to escape. They are torn in different directions, with Sarah ending up in a concentration camp. The story picks up after the camp is liberated and follows Sarah’s journey as she slowly begins to rebuild her life.

The author succeeds in bringing her grandmother’s world to life; it’s hard to emerge from this reading experience unaffected. Told with unflinching honesty, the book is simultaneously engrossing and painful to read because of the tragedies experienced by the family during the Holocaust. But rather than being all about darkness and tragedy, ultimately this is a book about resiliency and the ability to heal from a life replete with loss. It would have added depth if the reader had been given more details about Sarah’s life from 1945 onward, in addition to the slim chapters in the beginning featuring Sarah in 1982, though the author does update the reader in an epilogue. However, the accompanying photos of the author’s family and from Olkusz during the German occupation add a welcome, visual dimension to the reading experience.