Letters and other documents from the author’s family history tell the story of the search for her grandfather, gone missing in a World War I battle.
In Lina’s Love: Postcards and Poems from Hugo (2014), Rosenthal published hundreds of postcards and handwritten poems exchanged between her German grandparents Hugo and Lina before their marriage. In this new book, Rosenthal presents her recent find—a shopping bag full of letters, postcards, telegrams and other documents, most dated 1914 or 1915, nearly all related to learning the fate of Hugo after his injury in a 1914 battle. Rosenthal again provides English translations with German transcriptions and reproductions of the originals. The correspondence is addressed to or from military offices, the Red Cross, consulates, etc., across the Eurasian continent: from Madrid in the west to Ussuriysk in far eastern Russia; from Stockholm to Tashkent. The struggle to extract even a scrap of information from the fog of war is long and hard-fought, taking on the suspense of a mystery, with resolution withheld until the end. As Rosenthal notes in some thoughtful comments, one theme that reveals itself is Lina’s poor treatment by her family. She’s constantly being scolded for worrying (even as she diligently seeks out information) and blamed for illness: “Seek to uplift yourself, my child, all physical pain is the product of your mental suffering,” writes her mother. Lina, like Rosenthal herself, “clashed with her patriarchal relatives.” Historians will find much to interest them in this cache of primary sources, such as how quickly initial homefront optimism about the war’s course turns into accounts of privation, shortages and sad sights of young men with missing limbs. In some places, Rosenthal could provide more extensive explanations. For example, Hugo writes, “The torch of war has set all of Europe aflame and brought on the transvaluation of all values”; it would be valuable to know that the latter phrase is a concept from Nietzsche (elaborated in The Antichrist) and a sign of Hugo’s education, values and outlook.
A moving and very well-documented account of a woman’s search for her missing husband.