Lost in America by Marilyn Sachs tells the story of seventeen-year-old Nicole Nieman's first year in New York, following the death of her family at the hands of the Nazis. This book is a sequel to A Pocket Full of Seeds, which was about Nicole's experience hiding in France after her parents and younger sister are taken away to a concentration camp. However, Lost in America contains enough background that it can be read as a standalone novel.
After the war, when Nicole learns for certain that her parents and sister aren't coming back, she emigrates to America, following the footsteps of her friend Rosette. Her father's cousin Jake and his family take her in, albeit reluctantly. Jake's venomous wife Harriet clearly resents Nicole's presence, and her cousin Evvie wants her to "get lost." They expect her to go out and get a job immediately, to pay her own way.
Adjusting to life in New York is difficult for Nicole. Her English isn't what it needs to be, her clothes aren't right, she's never had a job before, and everything seems too crowded and fast-paced. She struggles to assimilate to her new culture, while still feeling like herself. But she does have her friend Rosette (now called Rose), and a new friend named Simone, another French Jewish immigrant. As Nicole finds a job, and begins to stand on her own two feet, she finds that there are advantages to life in America (especially the banana splits!).
I wasn't surprised when I got to the afterword to Lost in America, and learned that it's a fictionalized account of the actual immigration experience of Fanny Krieger, a close friend of the author. It feels like a true story. As I was reading, I felt Nicole's guilt over her treatment of her younger sister. I felt her awkwardness when she didn't have the right clothes, and her despair when she wandered New York City looking for a job. Some of the details of the story felt like real tidbits, things that wouldn't necessarily have been added to just any old novel, but things that were included here because, well, they really happened.
Lost in America is a quick read, but one that contains the full spectrum from tragedy to humor, and back again. Nicole's determination to survive and be independent in trying times is an inspiration.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.