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The story at the core of Lost is simple: Parents who lost a child during the Russian invasion of Germany believe they have found him, years later, living in an orphanage. They undertake to reclaim him, only to be frustrated by a hopelessly bureaucratic process meant to determine whether their link to the boy is biological or imagined.
What makes the novel remarkable is the narrator's perspective. The narrator is the second son of the questing parents, and as he tells the story his voice is strained alternately by jealousy, anger, isolation, and wonder. He never knew his brother as anything other than a photograph, and was therefore able to turn him into an ideal and a marker of uniqueness: none of his friends had dead brothers, after all; no one else he knew carried around a phantom double in his head. But when his parents reveal that the brother he thought was dead is not only alive but living a few towns over, and when they tell him that they are going to try to reclaim him, the narrator feels his self-made world begin to disintegrate. He constantly recalculates his jealousy quotient, trying to interpret the hereditary information his parents obtain through countless studies. He sees the results of these tests as mounting proof that the orphan in question is not his brother. His parents, of course, draw the opposite conclusion.
The book has an extremely dense, almost obsessed atmosphere. It evokes the stifling experience of a child dragged into an adult's world where he is alien and also, by virtue of his alienation, wiser than the adults he suffers. Striking as it is in Treichel's rendering, this obsessed voice would be too oppressive if it weren't occasionally overwhelmed by the narrator's wonder at some of the strangeness of his world.
Fortunately, Treichel delivers wonder as palpably as he does brooding. There is an especially vivid scene of the boy's experience in the hands of a neo-phrenologist, a pseudoscientist who palpates the skull looking for hereditary information. The narrator's first sight of his father's naked feet is also striking, and it's Treichel's way of taking such a mundane moment and eking emotional significance out of it that provides the greatest rewards of this satisfying debut. ¶
George Weld is a writer in New York City.